T'ao Ku Presenting a Lyric to Ch'in Jo-lan

Tags: Ming dynasty | National Palace Museum | painting


T'ang Yin (1470-1532), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 168.8 x 102.1 cm 
T'ang Yin (style name Tzu-wei, sobriquets Po-hu and Liu-ju) was a native of Wu-hsien (Soochow, Kiangsu) and is considered one of the Four Great Masters of the Ming. In painting, he studied under Chou Ch'en (ca. 1450-1535) and copied the works of such artists as Li Ch'eng, Fan K'uan, Ma Yüan, and Hsia Kuei, all Sung masters active from the tenth to thirteenth centuries. To this, he also assimilated the techniques of scholar landscape painting from the Four Great Masters of the Yüan. Furthermore, since he had an inherent talent for painting, he was able to surpass these forerunners and create a distinct personal style.

In the early Sung (960-1279), T'ao Ku (903-970) served an envoy to the small Five Dynasties kingdom of the Southern T'ang. T'ao was condescending in the face of the Southern T'ang ruler Li Hou-chu. The Southern T'ang officials, angered by his rudeness, came up with a plot; they sent the court courtesan Ch'in Jo-lan in the guise of the Station Officer's daughter to seduce T'ao. Alone in her company and unsuspecting of her true identity, T'ao Ku was overcome by her beauty and forgot his official position, indiscreetly writing a poem for her. The next day, the Southern T'ang ruler gave a banquet for T'ao Ku. At the banquet, T'ao again assumed an air of unbending dignity and unapproachability. The ruler then summoned Ch'in Jo-lan to perform a song, which was the poem that T'ao had written for her the day before. T'ao was thereupon greatly humiliated and he lost his composure. The painting here illustrates this story.

In this fine figure painting, T'ao Ku sits on a daybed. Next to him are writing materials as a torch burns in front. Ch'in Jo-lan, with her elaborate hairstyle, plays the p'i-p'a in a lifelike rendering just before he writes the poem. The tree and stone, bamboo and plantain, and potted flowers, as well as the daybed and painted screens are all painted carefully. The enclosed composition creates for an intimate setting. The coloring is elegant and the scene reserved yet lifelike. In T'ang Yin's poem written in the upper right, he associates himself with the figure of T'ao Ku.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum