An important example of early "history painting," Duke Wen of Jin Recovering His State illustrates episodes from the life of Chong'er of the state of Jin, who, after spending nineteen years in exile, returned to Jin as Duke Wen (r. 636–628 B.C.) to dominate the other feudal princes. This triumphant story of political recovery was used by the first Southern Song emperor, Gaozong, who had been a hostage of the Jurchen Jin before he escaped to reestablish the Song court in the south at Hangzhou. As emperor, he sponsored a number of narrative painting and calligraphy projects extolling the virtues and legitimacy of his "dynastic revival."
Zhou Mi (1232–1298) ascribed the painting to Li Tang and the text to Gaozong. This version of the story of Duke Wen follows the Zuojuan account of about the second century B.C. The drawing of the figures shows the influence of Li Gonglin (ca. 1049–1106), while the modeling of the rocks suggests the method of Guo Xi (ca. 1000–ca. 1090), the great landscapist of Henan Province whom Li Tang must have known in his youth.
Inscription: No artist's inscription, signature, or seal
Inscriptions on the painting
Attributed to Song emperor Gaozong 宋高宗 (r. 1127–62), 31 columns in semi-cursive script, undated: