Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): Loyalists and Individualists

The Anhui Masters
According to the dictates of Confucian tradition, a man may not serve under two dynasties. As a result, many Ming officials and loyal subjects withdrew from public service after the fall of the Ming dynasty and lived in enforced retirement, pursuing personal and artistic self-cultivation. Escaping the chaos of the Manchu conquest, many of these artists found sanctuary outside traditional centers of culture. Lacking access to important collections of old masters, they drew inspiration from the natural beauty of the local scenery. One group of Ming loyalists living in Anhui Province, a prosperous region known for its outstanding paper and ink, saw in the rugged cliffs and craggy pines of Mount Huang (Yellow Mountain) a world free from the taint of Manchu occupation. Inspired by the Yuan-dynasty recluse-painter Ni Zan (1306–1374), who was known for his lofty moral character, these artists emulated Ni’s minimalist compositions and “dry-brush” painting style, features that became hallmarks of the so-called Anhui School.

The Nanjing Masters
Nanjing, the Ming dynasty’s secondary capital, remained a haven for loyalists during the early Qing. A center of Jesuit missionary activity since the late sixteenth century—it was once the home of Matteo Ricci (1552–1610)—Nanjing was also one of the first places where Chinese painters began to incorporate Western ideas of shading and perspective in their depictions of local scenery.

The most innovative Nanjing master was Gong Xian (ca. 1619–1689), who practiced a densely textured, monumental landscape style in which he was able to suggest volume and mass by varying the density and darkness of his ink dots. This modeling technique is highly schematic, and there is no single light source as in Western painting, but Gong’s interest in the effects of light and shade probably owes something to the influence of European engravings and paintings.

Zhang Feng (active ca. 1628–62), whose father died in 1631 while defending the Ming against early incursions by the Manchus, withdrew from society after the fall of the Ming and became associated with the Buddhist church. Zhang’s paintings present images of reclusion in the pale, dry style of Ni Zan.

Among the more conservative masters working in Nanjing were Ye Xin (active ca. 1640–73) and Fan Qi (1616–after 1694), both of whom worked in an unusually precise and realistic style. Both specialized in small-scale gemlike paintings depicting the rural scenery around their native city. Sensitive and lyrical recorders of the familiar, these artists were also innovative experimenters with light, atmosphere, and color whose art reflects a creative response to Western influences recently introduced to China by the Jesuits.