Painting as a Social Record

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In the Song period, the range of  

acceptable subject matter for artists expanded considerably.  Like poets and other writers, painters began depicting scenes of daily life with much greater frequency.  


Accordingly, the art works of this period often present us with a fuller and more complex look into social customs and relationships than an examination of written sources alone could provide.  Our knowledge of how people dressed, interacted socially, and how and where they made a living or practiced their trade is greatly enhanced by studying paintings of the period. 

Gu Hongzhong (Five Dynasties), The Night Revels of Han Xizai, detail                                     source



One issue you may want to keep in mind as you look at the paintings in this section is the merit painting has as a document of social phenomena.  


How useful are paintings as social and historical documents?  What kind of information can they provide?  What are the limitations of painting in terms of providing historical evidence?  How do you decide whether or not the painter is a "reliable narrator?"

Urban Life


Private Life