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Followers of the Wen School

Known for decades as the Wu School’s leader, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) that he belonged to the group called “the three perfections” poetry, painting and calligraphy. Wen remained active as an artist until he died at age eighty-nine. By that time, several of his most outstanding followers had already passed away. Other artists, however, continued to work in styles heavily influenced by Wen Zhengming’s approach well into the final quarter of the sixteenth century. Among these were his two talented sons, Wen Peng (1498–1573) and Wen Jia (1501–1583), who directly emulated their father and shared many of his interests and concerns. Qian Gu (1508–after 1574) also faithfully adhered to the styles that Wen Zhengming had developed and promoted. Other gentleman artists advanced Wen Zhengming’s legacy in new directions, such as

Known for decades as the Wu School’s leader, Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) that he belonged to the group called “the three perfections” poetry, painting and calligraphy. Wen remained active as an artist until he died at age eighty-nine. By that time, several of his most outstanding followers had already passed away. Other artists, however, continued to work in styles heavily influenced by Wen Zhengming’s approach well into the final quarter of the sixteenth century. Among these were his two talented sons, Wen Peng (1498–1573) and Wen Jia (1501–1583), who directly emulated their father and shared many of his interests and concerns. Qian Gu (1508–after 1574) also faithfully adhered to the styles that Wen Zhengming had developed and promoted.

Other gentleman artists advanced Wen Zhengming’s legacy in new directions, such as Lu Zhi (1496–1576), who developed a unique, almost luminous style of landscape painting. The flourishing professional painter Xie Shichen (1487–after 1567) incorporated elements from other popular styles, but he continued to draw inspiration and material from literati culture and to rely on gentleman artists for calligraphic contributions to his scrolls. Wen Zhengming’s influence even extended to the generation of his great-grandson Wen Zhenmeng (1574–1636), a calligrapher. He and other local gentleman artists carried on producing collective scrolls and albums inspired by traditional themes, such as the “Eight Views of Xiao Xiang,” as well as by contemporary occasions.

Still, Wen Zhengming’s death deprived the Wu School of both its center of gravity and its leading light, and the vitality and prominence of Suzhou painting and calligraphy ultimately waned. By the early seventeenth century, the city’s economic clout also had diminished, owing in part to the rise of nearby Shanghai and other towns in the Yangzi delta region. Competing centers of artistic production diluted and eventually eclipsed the city’s premier cultural status. By the 1630s, the Wu School, though still highly influential, had given up its role as a dominant force. Translations by Stephen D. Allee.  (Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Mountain Village on a Clear Day (from the album Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers)


(Image: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Maker(s): Artist: Li Shida (active 1580-1621); Calligrapher: Wen Zhenmeng (1574-1636)

Historical period(s): Ming dynasty, 1621

Medium:  Ink and color on paper

Dimensions: H x W (image): 24 x 25.2 cm (9 7/16 x 9 15/16 in) (Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian).

Poem by Cui Shu in cursive script


(Image: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Maker(s): Artist: Wen Peng (1498-1573)

Historical Period(s): Ming dynasty, early to mid-16th century

Medium: Ink on paper

Dimensions: H x W (image): 357.9 x 103 cm (140 7/8 x 40 9/16 in)(Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian).



Eldest son of the renowned Suzhou artist Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), Wen Peng is especially famous for his works in seal and cursive script. Most examples of Wen Peng’s calligraphy are small in scale, often taking the form of inscriptions on paintings or colophons on handscrolls, while large-size characters from his hand are rare. The wiry structures, evenly applied ink, and fluid brush movements on this scroll—which are typical of cursive script–illustrate the calligrapher’s mastery of media and form.

Wen Peng’s text is a poem by the Tang dynasty writer Cui Shu (active mid-8th century), titled On the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month, Climbing the Terrace of Looking For the Immortal. It is traditional in China on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month to climb to a high place to eat and drink and enjoy the autumn scenery. To observe the holiday, Cui Shu and his friends climbed a high terrace built by Emperor Wen (reigned 179–157 B.C.) of the Han dynasty, a scenic spot in Shaanxi Province that evoked for the poet a series of historical and literary associations:


Emperor Wen of the Han dynasty raised this high terrace,

Which today we climb to watch the colors of dawn begin.

Cloudy hills of the Jin States stretch off to the north,

Gusting rain over Twin Knolls comes down from the east.

Who would recognize the warden of the far frontier gate?

The old Immortal-on-the-River is gone and won’t return.

Let’s search nearby instead for the Magistrate of Pengze,

To happily imbibe with him a cup of chrysanthemum wine. (Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Boating past an empty pavilion


(Image: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Maker(s): Artist: Qian Gu (1508-ca. 1572); Calligrapher: Colophon by Zhou Shifu (active mid-16th century)

Historical period(s):  Ming dynasty, 1508-1577

Medium: Ink on paper

Dimensions: H x W (painting image): 28 x 43 cm (11 x 16 15/16 in) (Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian),









Outing to the Red Cliff


Detail, Outing to the Red Cliff (Image: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)
Outing to the Red Cliff (Image: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)

Maker(s): Artist: Xie Shichen (1487-ca. 1561); Calligrapher: Colophon by Wen Zhengming 文徵明 (1470-1559) Colophon by Chen Rentao 陳仁濤 (1906-1968)

Historical period(s): Ming dynasty, 1558

Medium:  Ink on silk

Dimensions:  H x W (image): 23 x 75.5 cm (9 1/16 x 29 3/4 in) (Source: asia.si.edu/Smithsonian)


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