Under the Yuan Dynasty, a more “individualist” and innovative approach to art began to develop due to the relative freedom that painters enjoyed, an approach that noticeably deviated from the more superficial style of the Song masters who preceded them. However, at the outset of the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu emperor decided to import the existing master painters to his court in Nanjing, where he had the ability to influence their painting styles, insisting that they better conform to the paintings of the Song masters. Hongwu was notorious for his attempts to marginalize and persecute the scholar class, and this was seen as an attempt to banish the gentry’s influence from the arts.
Following the ascension of the Yongle emperor after the death of Hongwu, the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing, putting a large distance between the once dominant imperial influences and the city of Suzhou. These new conditions led to the rise of the Wu School of painting, a somewhat subversive style that revived the ideal of the inspired scholar-painters in Ming China.
During the Ming Dynasty, Chinese painting developed greatly from the achievements of the earlier Song and Yuan Dynasties. The painting techniques that were invented and developed before the Ming period became classical during this period. More colors were used in painting during the Ming Dynasty; seal brown, for example, became much more widely used, and sometimes even over-used. Many new painting skills and techniques were developed, and calligraphy was much more closely and perfectly combined with the art of painting. Chinese painting reached another climax in the mid- to late-Ming Dynasty when many new schools were born, and many outstanding masters emerged.
The painting schools of the Yuan Dynasty still heavily influenced early Ming painting, but new schools of painting were also growing. In particular, the Zhe School and the Yuanti School were dominant during the early Ming period. The painters of the Zhe School did not formulate a new distinctive style, preferring instead to further the style of the Southern Song and specializing in large and decorative paintings, most often of landscapes. The school was identified by a formal, academic, and conservative outlook. The Yuanti School was organized and supported by the Ming central government to serve the Ming royal court. Both of these new schools were heavily influenced by the traditions of both the Southern Song painting academy and the Yuan scholar-artists.
The classical Zhe School and Yuanti School began to decline during the mid-Ming period. Meanwhile, the Wu School (sometimes referred to as Wumen) became the most dominant school nationwide. Its formation is credited to painter Shen Zhou, who is known for using brushstrokes in the tradition of Yuan Dynasty masters. Suzhou, the activity center for Wu School painters, became the biggest center for Chinese painting during this period. The Wumen painters mainly inherited the Yuan scholar-artist style of painting and further developed this style into its peak. The painters Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, Shen Zhou, and Qiu Ying were regarded as the “Four Masters” of the Ming period.
Often classified as literati, scholars, or amateur painters (as opposed to professionals), members of the Wu School idealized the concepts of personalizing works and integrating the artists into the art. A Wu School painting is characterized by inscriptions describing the painting, the date, method, and/or reason for the work, which is usually seen as a vehicle for personal expression.
Find an error? Take a screenshot, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you $3!