Staff Research

Ming court Painting of the Hongzhi Reign (1487-1505): Emperor, Painters, and Their Legacy


HO Ka Yi




RGC Early Career Scheme 24604521

A prevalent artistic style can be seen in paintings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries across China, Japan, and Korea. Scholars conventionally believe that this “international” style originated from a group of professional painters, the so-called “Zhe school,” in China and rapidly disseminated to Japan and Korea through sinophile envoys, merchants, and painters. However, previous studies seldom examined the Hongzhi emperor (r. 1488–1505), who arguably was the most politically and culturally influential art patron, and his favorite court painters, who were the most prestigious painters of the time, in the context of Ming court painting, let alone exploring their contribution to forming a contemporary East Asian visual culture.

The Hongzhi emperor, a renowned painter himself, was the only Ming emperor who left abundant records directly indicating his preference for a painting style deriving from the Southern Song court and his admiration for court painters’ craftmanship and artistic creativity. Due to the lack of his extant painting, the Hongzhi emperor was overshadowed in modern scholarship by Xuande and Chenghua, the other two artist emperors of the Ming whose paintings have been well preserved and studied. Since the end of the last century, more and more court painters of the Hongzhi reign have been identified from textual records, and more paintings have been reattributed to them. These discoveries have finally accumulated sufficient evidence for this project to substantially portray the artistic features, social history, and cultural legacy of Hongzhi court painting in the contexts of Ming court art and East Asian visual culture.

This project aims to analyze the production, reception, and adaptation of Hongzhi court painting by closely reading into textual records and extant paintings in China, Taiwan, the United States, and Japan. Historical documents, art critiques, painting inscriptions, and formal properties of extant paintings will be carefully scrutinized to understand the artistic features of Hongzhi court painting and the fluidity of artistic styles and court art’s cultural significances crossing the boundaries between inside and outside the court and between China and the rest of East Asia. The outcomes of this project will be two peer-reviewed journal articles, focusing on the Hongzhi emperor’s art patronage and the distribution and appropriation of Chinese painting of the sixteenth century in East Asia, respectively, and a book proposal submitted to an academic publisher, which will be the first monograph on the Ming court painting of the Hongzhi reign.