How to Appreciate Chinese Paintings
Posted 15 Sep 2009, 22:14
Over the last 3 years, I’ve translated quite a few different kinds of documents between English and Chinese. Most common jobs are websites, business certificates, video scripts etc.
Recently, I’ve got an quite interesting request from a lady who found me onGumtree, asking me to help identify a few words on the artworks she brought back from China.
First I thought it might be ancient poems, or maybe something like a “Chinese Couplet” but I was wrong. The images she sent me for translation advice are actually Chinese Seal — artists’ signatures printed on stamps.
I haven’t seen these kind of artworks since I was a child.
From the images, I knew instantly that the original painting (Gong-bi, Meticulous) was from 郎世寧 (Shining Lang). It was painted around 300 years ago (I don’t know the exact year since he had thousands of paintings). His name could be identified from the right corner of the painting, along with his seal.
The big red seal on the upper-left corner states that this artwork been collected in Qianlong Emperor ‘s studio — Sanxitang( a museum which stores three kinds of rare artworks) where the Emperor of Qing Dynasty kept rare treasures especially Calligraphy and paintings from Xizhi Wang, Xianzhi Wang and Xun Wang.
The real piece of the painting should be safely and well stored in China Museum. So how do I tell whether this is a good imitation, or how close it is to the real one?
To appreciate Chinese paintings, there are three points to look at:
- Painting characteristics There’s a bird in Shining’s painting. It looks like it was looking for its friends or singing. Qianlong Emperor didn’t like birds to look downwards or flowers depicted as withering — which may imply dying, decline, bad luck to him or his country. So most of paintings Shining did were like this one: the bird is looking up, which means his country or his power will become stronger and growing day after day; Similarly, in the painting on the left, the flowers are blooming, symbolizing prosperity of the society under his rule. These characteristics match Qianlong’s preference and appreciation on paintings, so, it’s not a bad copy from the first look.
- Painting materials Taking a closer look of the paper itself, it is Xuan paper. That’s different from what we write on or use in printers nowadays. Xuan paper does not look as white as paper today, and is also a bit rough on the surface. Its thickness is not consist throughout the whole piece, some place feels thicker, some thinner. From this, the painting appeared to be from someone who knew about Chinese culture and the history associated to the original painting.
- Seals In Qing Dynasty and many other Dynasties in Chinese history, calligraphers and painters normally use Zhusha Seal or other types which mainly made from minerals. After thousands of years, the seal would appear to be a bit unclear, broken, fade-away — it definitely can’t be as clear as a fresh print. The person who forged this one might have just used a red inkpad to imitate the real piece. However he was thoughtful as he made the seal not looks as brand new as from last year.
Goodbye Sydney, London is calling!
7 years ago, I came to Australia with 2 oversized bags and an electronic dictionary to help me learn phrases beyond 'how are you?'.
2 years ago, I stood on the shoulders of a Tech Giant (Google!). And I’ve had a very unexpected but exciting ride ever since; I’ve been fed more brain food than free food, I’ve met extraordinarily talented people, lovely colleagues and some of the best friends of my life - yourself included.
5 days ago, I started packing up, with far less things than before, but with a heavy heart and a full load of tears.
On Saturday, my daily (>3 hours!) commute between Wollongong and Sydney will come to an end.
From the 7th of March, I will transfer into a new role at Google London as a Technical Creative Specialist, in the gTech EMEA team.
It's time to say goodbye, but not forever!
To my dearest family, brilliant friends and colleagues that I’ve grown to love and respect. To those who have given me unfailingly wise suggestions with my first TEDx Talk, to all of you who have firmly supported me.
I raise my glass, to the summer ocean and my vast #straya memories, to all of you, near and far.
I hope to see you again.