In the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Suzhou was a center of beauty, thought, and culture. Many of the period’s greatest minds eschewed civil service in favor of a life of refinement in China’s garden city, where they composed poems, wrote calligraphy, and produced paintings of great subtlety and elegance. Dotted with gardens of intricate design, crisscrossed by meandering canals, and blessed with warm weather for much of the year, Suzhou was beautiful and rich; the city became home and muse to the loose confederation of artists known to history as the “Wu School,” after the city’s ancient name.
Many types of paintings were produced in Suzhou, but certain concerns were paramount: personal expression was favored above displays of painterly skill, simplicity was preferred to showiness, and scenes that captured Suzhou’s unique local character were particularly prized. The works in this exhibition, all drawn from the MFA’s permanent collection, offer an overview of Suzhou painting and calligraphy from its period of greatest achievement—the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.