Bird and Flower Paintings



When the founding emperors of the Song defeated the courts of their rivals, they took over their court artists, who included some experts in bird and flower painting.  From then on, this type of painting was a specialty of the court.   
This large handscroll, perhaps originally part of a screen painting, was painted by Cui Bo, active during the reign of Shenzong (r. 1067-85).

What is happening in  this painting?

Can you tell what season it is?

Click here for details.

[In the guide, below]

Cui Bo, Magpies and Hare                              

SOURCE:  Cui Bo, Magpies and Hare, from Guoli gogong bowuyuan, ed. Qianxi nian Wongdai wenwu dazhan (Taibei: Gogong, 2000), pp. 116-7. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taibei.  Hanging scroll on silk, 193.7 by 103.4 cm.

MORE:  Cui Bo, like many other painters from the provinces, came to the capital to seek an appointment at court.  Known as a genius at painting but otherwise eccentric and inept at practical matters, the emperor Shenzong required very little of him other than to paint for him personally. 

This painting has the title "Double Happiness," a reference to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for magpie.  "Two magpies" was pronounced the same as  "two happinesses," so a painting of two magpies was a pictorial metaphor for double happiness and thus an appropriate subject for a painting to be given to someone to express congratulations, especially for a wedding.  In many other cases as well paintings of birds and flowers gain meaning from homophones of the objects depicted.

The painting is signed and dated 1061, making it the earliest such signed and dated painting.


The birds and branches shown here are details from a large hanging scroll, depicting several birds perched in the branches of an old plum tree or the bamboo next to it. The painting was probably done by artists serving under Huizong (r. 1100-1125).  

To see the entire scroll, click here.  [In the guide, below]





SOURCE:  Lin Boting, "Songren meizhu quqin tu," Gugong wenwu yuekan 1 (1983), pp. 74-78.

Another detail:

Very similar painting techniques were used by Li Anzhong, a court artist who began painting in the late Northern Song court but joined the Southern Song court as well after it relocated in Hangzhou.


Would you be able to identify this bird from the way it is depicted?

Li Anzhong, "Bird on Branch"                             

SOURCE:  Li Anzhong, “Bird on a Branch,” from Qin Xiaoyi, ed., Songdai shuhua ceye mingpin tezhan - Famous Album Leaves of the Sung Dynasty (Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan pianzhuan weiyuanhui, 1995), pl. 57.    Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taibei.   Album leaf on silk, 25.4 by 26.9 cm. 


Throughout the Southern Song exacting depiction of nature was appreciated at court.  

Anonymous Southern Song artist, Loquats and Mountain Bird

SOURCE:  Fu Sinian, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, huihua bian 4: Liang Song huihua, xia (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988), pl. 96, p. 131. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Beijing.  Album leaf, colors on silk, 28.9 x 29 cm
Compare the way this court artist did leaves to the way a somewhat later scholar painter did the tops and undersides of leaves in tones of ink.

Of the three album leaves depicting birds shown here, which do you find most appealing or affecting?   

Anonymous (Song), Duckling         

SOURCE:  Qin Xiaoyi, ed., Song dai shuhua ceye mingpin tezhan, Famous Album Leaves of the Sung Dynasty (Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan pianji weiyuanhui, 1995), pl. 63, p. 216.  Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.  Album leaf, ink and colors on silk, 25.9 x 25 cm


Beginning in Huizong's reign, court painters were expected to be able to couple painting and poetry.  Huizong had painters paint scenes that would match poetic lines.  During the Southern Song some emperors and empresses inscribed poetic lines to go with small paintings, especially album leaves.  In the painting below, the court painter Ma Lin has painted the blossoming branches to go along with a poem inscribed by an imperial consort. 



Do you think the painting and calligraphy complement each other here?  How would style in calligraphy relate to style in painting?



For more on the links between painting, poetry, and calligraphy, go on to Scholars' Painting.

Ma Lin, Layers on Layers of Icy Silk       

SOURCE:  Zhongguo meishu quanji, Huihua bian 4: Liang Song huihua, xia  (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1988). pl. 109, p. 148. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Beijing.

Move on to Paintings with Political Agendas