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Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty

Li T'ang (circa 1070-after 1150), Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 188.7 x 139.8 cm 
Li T'ang (style name Hsi-ku), a native of San-ch'eng in Ho-yang, served in the Han-lin Academy of Painting under Emperor Hui-tsung (1082-1135; reigned 1101-1125) of the Northern Sung. Sometime between 1127 and 1130, after the fall of the Northern Sung in 1126, Li escaped to the south, where the government had re-established as the Southern Sung (1127-1279). There he re-entered the Painting Academy, which was set up during the period from 1131 and 1162. He went on to receive the title of Gentleman of Complete Loyalty and the prestigious Gold Belt. He also became a Painter-in-Attendance and one of the most dominant figures in Southern Sung court painting.

Li T'ang's signature appears on a pale spindly background peak to the left of the central mountain in this painting. It reads, "Painted by Li T'ang of Ho-yang in spring of the ‘chia-ch'en’ year [1124] of the Hsüan-ho Reign of the Great Sung." Here, Li T'ang has portrayed the rugged, powerful features of a mountainous scene. Although the central mountain dominates the composition, as seen in other monumental landscape paintings of the Northern Sung, the foreground scene presents a more intimate setting that ultimately became popular in Southern Sung painting. The rock faces and mountainsides give the appearance of wood chopped with an axe. These strokes later became known as "axe-cut" texture strokes and are often seen in Southern Sung court and professional painting. This type of brushwork is ideal for suggesting the sharp features of rocky landscapes and eroded slopes. As for the puffs of white clouds in the middleground, they not only appear to move (adding a sense of dynamism to the scroll) but also serve as backgrounds for highlighting the rocks and trees in front as well as for dividing the composition. The clouds, furthermore, provide a contrast for the jagged rocks, softening the features of the painting while opening up the composition. Distance is suggested by large pines in the foreground compared to the distant background forests, and a winding rocky path also adds depth and serenity to the composition. Cascades on either side of the central mountain fall from the heights, are broken up by the rock forms, and end up as the rushing stream in the left foreground. The movement of the water stands out so vividly in this placid valley that it almost seems audible--surely something that a master painter like Li T'ang would have intended.


Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum