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Cultivated Landscapes: Reflections of Nature in Chinese Painting with Selections from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill

September 10, 2002–February 9, 2003

Visions of Natural Hierarchy in the Early Song Dynasty

During the early Song dynasty (960–1279), visions of the natural hierarchy became metaphors for the well-regulated state. At the same time, images of the private retreat proliferated among a new class of scholar-officials, who gained their status through a system of civil service examinations that rewarded intellectual achievement with official rank, and who extolled the virtues of self-cultivation—often in response to political setbacks or career disappointments. These men asserted their identity as literati through poetry, calligraphy, and their own form of "scholar-painting." Song scholar-artists worked in a calligraphic, monochrome style and painted old trees, bamboo, and rocks as emblems of their own moral rectitude and endurance.