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Herons and Water Plants
1368-1644


Ming dynasty

Ink and color on silk
W: 60.5 cm
China

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1893.32

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Decorative yet realistic paintings of bird-and-flower subjects enjoyed enormous popularity at the Ming court and among privileged members of society. This style suited the contemporary taste and resembled a school of imperially sponsored painting that had been popular during the Song dynasty (960-1279), a period of great cultural blossoming. The Ming emperors intentionally recalled the Song to bolster their position as sophisticated Chinese rulers aware of and equal to the past heritage.

The style of this work compresses space so that the picture reads as a harmonious decorative pattern, yet it also offers a view of natural pond life. This style that combines ornament and naturalism is associated with the court artist Lu Ji (ca.1420-ca.1505) and his circle. The theme of egrets relies on visual punning, or a rebus, and takes into account that the Chinese word for egret sounds like another word that means wealth through official position.