Exhibition expounds on 'vision and verse' in Chinese art

Importance of poetry in painting displayed in 90 artworks at The Met in New York

By ZHAO XU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-05-28 07:15
Share - WeChat
Azure Cliff with Red Maples by Ming Dynasty painter Wu Bin. This scene of human encounter with nature is accompanied by a verse by Tang-Dynasty poet Du Fu inscribed by the painter. CHINA DAILY

Familiar solitude

For Dolberg, the sense of solitude permeating the painting is all too familiar. Within the same gallery, a not-so-distant echo is sent by another painting, done during the 12th century, which depicts a man hurrying through a bare-branched winter forest on the back of a donkey. A boy attendant runs head of him, suggesting that the protagonist was a scholar, albeit a slightly woeful one who, seeking warmth, has clasped his hands inside the opposite sleeves. It seems that his broad-rimmed hat is hardly a shield against the chilly blast, as his boy companion offers little consolation.

The painting doesn't identify the man, but Dolberg believes he is Du's contemporary Meng Haoran (689-740) who, by the time of the Song Dynasty, had already come to embody what the curator calls "the visual iconography of the donkey rider", providing Chinese art history with the image of a suffering poet-intellectual.

"These days we see paintings of travelers in forests, and scholars sitting by waterfalls that don't have a specific title. Yet we have to be aware of the fact that a painter from the 12th century was painting for a very different audience than the one coming into The Met Museum in 2024," said Dolberg. "Those were people who were constantly reading and writing poems. And to speak to that level of scholarship, a painting, rather than being generic, was more likely to have depicted a famous poet or poem that was very much on the minds of people in pre-modern China."

In talking about "scholars sitting by waterfalls", the curator was thinking about one man — Li Bai, Du's hedonistic friend who famously wrote, probably after some good drinking, "A cascade plunges a sheer three thousand feet, as if the Milky Way is tumbling down from the sky."

Both Du and Li had once been associated with the image of a donkey rider. But Meng clinched the deal partly thanks to his poet-painter friend Wang Wei (693-761), "one of the first famous Chinese poets who also painted", to use the words of Dolberg.

For any student of Chinese art history, Wang Wei's far-reaching influence on Chinese art is best summed up in his own words — "Poetry and painting share the same source."

"What Wang Wei was trying to express is very similar to the idea embedded in the ancient Latin phrase 'Ut pictura poesis', meaning'as is painting, so is poetry'," said Dolberg. "It appears to me that in both China and the Classical Mediterranean World and Europe, intellectuals and artists had been thinking deeply about the close relationship between these companion arts for some 2,000 years."

|<< Previous 1 2 3 4 Next   >>|
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349