Kublai Khan Hunting

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Yuan dynasty


Liu Kuan-tao (fl. ca. latter half of 13th c.), Yüan Dynasty (1279-1368)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 182.9 x 104.1 cm 
Liu Kuan-tao (style name Chung-hsien), a native of Hopeh province, was a celebrated court painter of the early Yüan, probably sometime in the reign of Kublai Khan (r. 1264-1294). In 1279, he was appointed by the emperor to the Imperial Wardrobe Service. His religious and figure paintings were all in the style of the early Chin and T’ang masters, while his landscapes followed the styles of Li Ch’eng and Kuo Hsi. His animal and bird-and-flower paintings combined the virtues of the old masters, becoming famous at the time.

Appearing against a backdrop of northern steppes and desert is a scene of figures on horseback. The one sitting on a dark horse and wearing a white coat is most likely the famous Mongol emperor Kublai Khan with his empress next to him. They are accompanied by a host of servants and officials; the one to the left is about to shoot an arrow at one of the geese in the sky above. The figure in blue has a hawk famous for its hunting skills, and a trained wildcat sits on the back of the horse in front. The dark-skinned figure is perhaps from somewhere in Central Asia. In the background, a camel train proceeds slowly behind a sandy slope, adding a touch of life to the barren scenery.

Every aspect of this work has been rendered with exceptional detail. Appearing quite realistic, even the representation of Kublai Khan in this painting corresponds quite closely to his imperial portrait in the Museum collection. Though few of Liu Kuan-tao’s paintings have survived, this work serves as testimony to his fame in Yüan court art. The artist’s signature and the date (1280) appear in the lower left.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum