Xiao Yuncong ( Chinese, 1596-1674)
Landscape in the Manner of Huang Gongwang, Quing dynasty, 1665
Handscroll, ink and color on paper
11 5/8 x 154 in. (29.6 x 390.9 cm)
R.T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1973
Stylistic elements from two different schools of seventeenth-century Chinese painting are masterfully combined in this mountain and river landscape from Xiao Yuncong's mature period.
Xiao Yuncong is not usually considered a member of the Orthodox School, but he was friends with many artists who belonged to that movement, and was certainly influenced by their theories. In the Oberlin scroll, Orthodox school influence is evident in the numerous art-historical allusions to the style of the Yuan dynasty painter Huang Gongwang (1269-1354).1 These allusions include the use of layered brushstrokes and washes to construct forms, the use of trees, rocks, and buildings to define the structure of the composition, and the alternation of sparse and dense passages of scenery throughout the scroll.
However, the Oberlin scroll also reveals the influences of another important school of Chinese painting which flourished in the Anhui province during the second half of the seventeenth century. Anhui-school paintings are usually characterized by the use of dry, crumbly brushstrokes, by the simplicity and clarity of their designs, and by the depiction of the landscape formations (especially precipitous mountains with clinging vegetation) typical of that province.2 Xiao was a native of Anhui, and a close examination of the brushwork, composition, and scenery of this painting shows its affinity to that school of painting.
By combining these different elements of Orthodox- and Anhui-school painting, Xiao was able to imprint his own distinctive identity onto this scroll, even while working in another artist's (Huang's) style. Such individualism is typical of Xiao's oeuvre as a whole, and is one of the chief reasons he is among the most difficult of all seventeenth-century Chinese artists to categorize.
Xiao Yuncong was an accomplished poet as well as a painter, and he often inscribed his images with verses of his own composition. The poem at the end of this scroll is not a straightforward description of the painted scenery, but its imagery resonates with the landscape preceding it and enhances the viewer's appreciation of the picture:3
From a verdant valley I gazed upon the southern mountains,
Shimmering azure-green before my eyes.
Seized by inspiration I visited Deer Gate,
Nestled in seclusion, up through Drake Gorge.
My lofty tracks could not be followed,
Only white clouds accompanied me, broken intermittently.
I felt as if I were at the end of the world,
Autumn colors infused the scenery, like the veins in a piece of jade.
A falling tree echoed among the empty crags,
A pure breeze carried the sounds of a jade waterfall.
Mists swirled about, rustling beneath the pines
Where I gathered an armful of mountain chrysanthemums.
Walking with my staff I headed west across a bridge,
Among the jade-white blossoms growing on foothills beneath the peaks.
Immortals delight in such lofty abodes,
Basking in the moonlight, they enjoy their seclusion.
River water fades to green at Heaven's gate,
Stone lotuses grow in princely households,
Where once upon a time they summoned painting masters,
And drank with them fresh spring wine.
Following the poem, the painting is dated using the Chinese cyclical system with a year corresponding to 1665. It is signed by "70 year old, Xiao Yuncong," and bears two seals of the artist.
Handscrolls encourage an active rather than passive viewing process. They are intended to be unrolled by an individual or small group one section at a time, with the portion just seen being rolled up before the next section is revealed. Thus, depending on where one stops unrolling, it is possible to experience a handscroll painting slightly differently with each viewing. We invite readers to experiment with "unrolling" the scroll in different ways, to see how the variety of viewing experiences changes your perception of the painting.
Xiao Yuncong was born into an aristocratic family from Wuhu in northern Anhui province. The night before his birth, his father is said to have dreamt that his child would be the reincarnation of a famous Tang dynasty painter, but most of Xiao's childhood and early adult years were spent studying for the civil service exams and trying to earn an official post. Xiao attempted and failed the exams in 1636, 1639, and 1642, and after the Manchu conquest of China in 1644, he abandoned all hope of an official career. Accordingly, he returned to his hometown, rebuilt the family estate that had been destroyed during the invasion, and devoted himself to art. In addition to being a painter, Xiao was also known as a poet, musician, and woodblock-print designer. He was a major figure in the development of the Anhui school of painting, and his paintings and prints exerted considerable influence on later generations of artists in both China and Japan.
Cahill, James, ed. Shadows of Mount Huang. Berkeley, 1981, pp. 67-68.
Rogers, Howard. Masterworks of Ming and Qing Painting from the Forbidden City. Exh. cat., International Arts Council, Lansdale, Penn., pp. 158-59.
Yu Jianhua. Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian. Shanghai, 1981, p. 1414.
With David Newman, London, from whom purchased in 1973
Rosenzweig, Daphne Lange. "A Landscape Handscroll by Hsiao Yün-ts'ung." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 32, no. 1 (1974-75), pp. 34-56.
This handscroll is painted with black ink and colors on paper. It is in good condition, and has been remounted at least once (probably in either 1884 or 1944).4 The inscription at the end of the painting is written in running-script calligraphy (xingshu). There are three collector's seals at the beginning of the painting: one of Gu Hui,5 one of Wang Renkan,6 and one unidentified. In addition, there are two artist's seals at the end of the painting reading "Zhongshan caotang" and "Xiao Yuncong."
2. For more information about the Anhui school, see James Cahill, ed., Shadows of Mount Huang (Berkeley, 1981).
3. Translated by C. Mason.
4. The title label on the scroll indicates that it was remounted and gives a cyclical date that could be 1944 or a date 60, 120, 180, etc., years before 1944. The appearance of the scroll indicates a date of 1884 or 1944.
5. The seal reads "Renqiu zhenshang." Renqiu was the style name of Gu Hui, an early nineteenth-century female artist and connoisseur. Biographical information can be found in Yu Jianhua, Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian (Shanghai, 1981), p. 1548.
6. The seal reads "Ren'an zhenwan." Ren'an was the style name of Wang Renkan (1848-1893). Biographical information can be found in Yu Jianhua, Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian (Shanghai, 1981), p. 60.