Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chinese Painting-Art Historian: Zhang Yanyuan

Art Historian: Zhang Yanyuan

Zhang Yanyuan, styling himself Aibin, was the art historian of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Born into a chancellor family in Yishi of Puzhou (Linqi County of Shanxi Province), Zhang took office as zuopushe buque, ministry counselor of the Ci department and chief minister of Dali. He was a learned scholar and excellent painter and calligrapher. Zhang's works include Fashu Yaolu, Collection of Poems on Color Paper and the first general history of art -- Records of Historical Famous Paintings.

Records of Historical Famous Paintings gave a summation of ancients' achievements in painting history. Following the tradition of combining historical facts and painting critics, Zhang initiated the style of general art history. By using abundant materials, Zhang's research focused on the development and internal relations of art history, using systematic historical painting materials to support his theories. The book extensively covered the development and significant theories of the history of painting. The biography section consisted of comprehensive records of painters' lives, thoughts and works. Zhang passed equitable judgments on painters by quoting predecessors, yet still developed his own ideas. From the point of view of the whole process of art creation and appreciation, Zhang brought recording, appraising, collecting, circulating and even mounting to the list of indispensable components, which gave rise to the integral research system of Chinese painting history. For a long time, the book was regarded as China's first publication on the general painting history and bibliography of painting of the period. It had a unique position in the development of Chinese painting as a link between the past and future.

In general, there are several features to Zhang's artistic theory. Apart from confirming Xie He's theory that painting had moral and political functions, Zhang put more emphasis on the meaning of painting itself. Opposing dull and stereotyped painting styles, Zhang stressed that painting needs ingenious creation and that the basic skill of painting lay in conception and stroke. A painter's cultural taste and personality were also very important to painting. Zhang was the first to forward the theory that painting was a career of moral scholars who had knowledge and unique personalities. As one of the earliest art theorists and critics, Zhang contributed many achievements to the theory of ancient painting history.

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