Tribute Bearers
By Ren Bowen (ca. mid-14th century)
Yuan dynasty copy of Tang-era painting
Handscroll: ink, colors and gold on silk
34.6 x 220.5 cm
Acquisition number: #B60 D100
The Avery Brundage Collection

Image courtesy of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (copyright reserved)

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If the inscription on this painting by Ming artist Wen Zhengming (1470-1550) is correct, then this painting by Yuan-era artist Ren Bowen (ca. mid-14th century) is a copy of an original work by Yan Liben (ca. 600-73), one of the most important artists of the Tang period. Though this claim cannot be substantiated, it is entirely possible, particularly since the scene depicted in Ren Bowen's composition would have appeared not at all out of place Yan Liben's lifetime. The painting illustrates a procession of foreign dignitaries, attendants, guardsmen and horse grooms rendering tribute and offerings at the Tang imperial court. At the very front a diminutive attendant bears a gold platter on his head, on which rests a gold lion statue surrounded with precious gems. The two dignitaries bear gifts at the front of the procession, including a gold censor emitting incense smoke. The real treasures, however, are the two horses, one white and one spotted gray, covered in brocade silk blankets. The finest specimens presented to the court would sometimes be recorded for posterity by court-appointed painters, and though none of Yan Liben's paintings survive, he was considered one of the most talented of the horse painters.