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Wen Boren’s Landscape at the Seattle Art Museum
Wang Yao-ting
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A fine work of imperial provenance, which is not recorded in the imperial catalogue, is Landscape, a refined, lyrical painting in hanging scroll format in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum.

To elucidate this important work, first we will take a look at how contemporaries and later writers described Wen Boren (1501-1575) and his work. Then we will examine the Seattle painting and compare it to other Ming Wu school works, especially related paintings by Wen Boren's celebrated uncle, Wen Zhengming 文徵明 (1470–1559), and discuss which places Wen Boren depicts and compare it to other paintings of these same locations. Finally, before we conclude, we will discuss the seals on the painting.

First, how do contemporaries portray the life and works of Wen Boren?

Wang Shizhen王世貞 (1526–1590) praises Wen Boren’s works of art as follows:

“Wen Daizhao’s [Expectant Official, Wen Zhengming] nephew was Boren; when he was young he studied with Wen Zhengming, often demonstrating brilliance. His handscrolls and large hanging scrolls were reputed to surpass [Wen Zhengming’s work]. In his later years he has had the leisure to enter a life of contemplation, and his reputation has diminished little since. 文待詔猶子伯仁,少傳家學,而時時發以巧思,橫披大幅頗負出藍之聲。晚節自足間入紕路,聲亦小減。”Wang Shizhen王世貞, Yanzhou sibu gao 弇州四部稿, in SKQS, 155.21.

On the other hand, Wang Shizhen also criticized him: “This chap used foul language and tended to verbally abuse those around him. 此君穢而好罵座。”Yanzhou sibu gao, 170.6.

In addition, in the preface to Jinling suo shi 金陵瑣事, dated to the middle of the third month of 1610, Zhou Hui周暉writes two passages about Wen Boren:

“Wen Boren was the nephew of Hengshan (Wen Zhengming) and his reputation was no less than Wen Zhengming’s. He tended to abuse those around him; most people could not endure him. Once when he was staying for some years in the Bailuquan Hall of Qixia Temple, a man by the name of Xufrom Dongshan politely invited Boren to come to the waterside pavilion at his home to paint. The pavilion overlooked Lake Tai. When host and guest were chatting and disagreed over a minor point, Boren, raising his fist, cursed his host violently. Xu did not bear it in silence for long, saying, ‘Wen Boren, you dare to act in such a rude manner in my house! If I were to toss you into Lake Tai, who would know?’ He immediately called his servants to come and tie him up. Boren, not anticipating this, prostrated himself, asking to be forgiven. Xu got out of his seat, and, towering over him, made an account of his failings while scolding him. Boren submitted to this to avoid being turned into fish bait. 文伯仁衡山之猶子,畫名不在衡山下。好使氣罵坐,人多不能堪。客棲霞寺白鹿泉庵中數年,有東山徐姓者,禮請伯仁至家水閣上作畫,水閣即臨太湖,賓主相談微有不合,伯仁遂掀拳大罵,徐隱忍不過,乃曰:『文伯仁在我家敢如此無狀,今投於爾于太湖,誰得知之。』急呼家僮數人來縛。伯仁計無所出,長跪求免。徐據上座,以大石壓頂,歷數其生平而唾罵之。伯仁唯唯而已,乃免為魚鱉餌。” Zhou Hui, Jinling suo shi金陵瑣事, SKQS, 256. Editor's note: See also Alice M. Hyland, The Literati Vision: Sixteenth Century Wu School Painting and Calligraphy ( Memphis: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1984), 62.

The line “Once when he was staying for some years in the Bailuquan Hall of Qixia Temple for some years” refers to when Wen Boren was living at the Qixia shan (Mt. Qixia), which he depicts in a work in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, titled Bailuquan Hermitage at Mt. She (She shan Bailuquan an 攝山白鹿泉庵).Translator’s note: for published information see: Guoli gugong bowu yuan國立故宮博物院, Gu gong shu hua tu lu故宮書畫圖錄 (Taibei: Guoli gugong bowu yuan, 1989), 169.

Zhou Hui also writes:

“When Wen Boren was young, he had a legal dispute with his uncle Wen Zhengming. He was put in prison where he became very sick. One night he dreamt that a spirit in a golden robe called to him saying, ‘You have nothing to be concerned about. In a former life, you were a student of Jiang Zicheng (active early 15th century). You must paint a large portrait of Guanyin, but before lifting your brush, you must purify yourself by fasting. Having accumulated merit, you will become famous for your painting in this lifetime.’ When he awoke, he felt immediately cured, and the problem was solved. 文伯仁幼年與叔徵仲相訟,囚於囹圄,病且亟。夜夢金甲神呼其名云:汝勿深憂。汝前身迺蔣子誠門人,凡畫觀音大士像,非齋戒不敢動筆。積此虔誠,今世當以畫名于世也。醒來殊覺病頓愈,而事亦解矣。”Zhou Hui, Jinling suo shi, 256. Editor's note: See also Alice M. Hyland, The Literati Vision: Sixteenth Century Wu School Painting and Calligraphy ( Memphis: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, 1984), 62.

Wen Boren’s large portrait of Guanyin is no longer extant. Despite Zhou Hui’s description of Wen Boren’s former and current lives, including his dispute with his uncle, we still do not know the cause of the dispute between nephew and uncle. This dispute can be found in contemporaneous accounts; however, Wen Zhengming, in his Fu tian ji 甫田集, makes no mention of this incident and how it affected his relationship with his nephew.

In any event, Wen Boren must have spent considerable time with his uncle Wen Zhengming, and learned painting from him. The inscription on the Wen Boren painting Deep River in the Fifth Month (Wu yue jiang shen tu 五月江深圖), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, reads: “Written in the Tingyun 停雲 Hall.” Thus, the inscription tells us that Wen Boren painted this scroll at the Tingyun Hall, the studio of Wen Zhengming. Most likely Wen Boren had numerous occasions to visit Wen's studio, but the relationship between uncle and nephew changed after the legal dispute. Does this suggest that Wen Boren's Deep river in the Fifth Month was created prior to the falling-out between uncle and nephew?

Another Wen Boren painting in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, titled West Dongting Mountain (Xi Dongting shan tu 西洞庭山圖), includes inscriptions by such poets as Wang Guxiang 王穀祥 (1501–1568), the brothers Wen Peng 文彭 (1498–1573) and Wen Jia 文嘉 (1501–1583), Lu Andao 陸安道 (his younger brother Shidao 師道 lived 1517-?), Lu Zhi 陸治 (ca. 16th c.), Xie Shichen 謝時臣 (1488-?). As Xie Shichen’s inscription is dated to his seventy-second year, or 1559, the year Wen Zhengming passed away, West Dongting Mountain predates Wen Zhengming’s death. More importantly, Wen Boren’s talent is noted in Lu Zhi’s inscription:

May I ask if this painting comes from the wondrous hands of a spirit?
Master Bo, [hao] Wufeng (Wen Boren) is of the ranks of immortals.
借問丹青神妙手, 五峰伯子是仙班。

Another indication of Wen’s talent was a portrait painted by him when he was twenty-five years old (1526), titled Small Portrait of Yang Jijing (Yang Jijing xiao xiang) 楊季靜小像, the only portrait by Wen Boren which is known to still exist. Yang Jijing (before 1504–1530) was a famous zither player who befriended Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin (1470–1524) and other Suzhou intellectuals. Given that Wen Boren, one generation younger than Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin, was painting portraits of Yang Jijing, an elder, we can speculate that, even when Wen Boren was young, his artistic skill already stood out among Wu school artists, and he was recognized as exceptional.

In addition, Wen Boren's painting A Spring Dawn on Cinnabar Platform (Dan tai chun xiao tu 丹臺春曉圖), National Palace Museum, Taipei, features a Taoist, his head bowed, standing on a stone platform with his back to the wind gazing at a cinnabar colored tripod. This work also reveals his skill at transmitting form and spirit in his paintings.

In the Palace Museum, Beijing, another painting by Wen Boren, Visiting Autumn Mountains (Qiu shan youlan tu juan 秋山游覽圖卷), bears an inscription by the Ming scholar-painter Mo Shilong 莫是龍 (1537–1578) who writes:

“In observing those of the past, such men as Gu Kaizhi would mount a platform and probe the essence of being, for more than twenty years. This spirit has been redoubled in our own times. Wen Zhengming and Wen Decheng (Boren) [have done this] by living alone in the mountains and distancing their footsteps from city and town. Besides their works no other trace of them exists; they are like the ancients, good and true. 觀昔人,稱顧愷之登樓研精者二十餘年,出便重於當代。文徵君徳承,獨居山樓,絶跡城市,筆墨之外,别無他營,其直造古人,良不虚也。” Bian Yongyu卞永譽, “Wen Wufeng Qiu shan youlan tu 文五峰秋山遊覽圖,” in Shi gu tang shu hua hui kao式古堂書畫彙考(Shanghai: Jiangu shu she, 1922), 28.56-57.

From this we know that Wen Boren was regarded as possessing the diligence and integrity of the ancients.

Later, Jiang Shaoshu 姜紹書 wrote the Wu sheng shi shi 無聲詩史 (completed after 1679) and reiterated the previous description of Wen.Jiang Shaoshu, Wusheng shi shi (Taibei: Xin wen feng, 1989), 14-15. During the era of the Republic (established 1912), the Wu Xianzhi 吳縣志, though the latest in date to appear, drew on the Yan men jia cheng xuji 雁門家乘續集 which cites the exact location of Wen’s reclusion: “Wen Boren, zi Decheng, began his reclusion in the village of Hancun 韓村 on Mount Dongting 洞庭 and late in life he moved to the western foot of Tiger Hill 虎丘 where he resided until the end of his days. 文伯仁字德承,…始居洞庭山之韓村,晚年遷虎丘西麓終焉。”Cao Yunyuan 曹允源, Li Genyuan 李根源, et al, eds., Wu xian zhi (Shanghai: Jiang Su guji chuban she, 1991), 75: 18.

Turning to Seattle’s Wen Boren Landscape, typical of 16th-century works, the composition is long and narrow. A body of water separates foreground and background. In the foreground are large boulders, towering cypress trees, and an open pavilion in which sits a single figure, enjoying the lakeside view. In the center foreground, a bridge connects left and right foregrounds; on the bridge, two figures converse. Just beyond is a second open pavilion with two people deep in conversation. The brushwork is subtle and understated, the rocks are defined by pale colored washes and light strokes of dry ink, and the foliage of the towering cypresses is rich and dense. The painter very ably sets up interplay between tree and building, water and rock, creating a sharply contoured space.

Separating foreground, or near distance, from the mountains in the background is a wide body of water, a lake, which eventually winds its way deep into the mountain range. This truly gives the scene a sense of wandering deep along a winding path. The only interruption on the tranquil surface of the water is a tiny boat sailing across the lake. Beyond the lake a towering mountain rises, receding into space. Small, dark trees highlight the crest of the mountainous form, emphasizing spatial recession. Using multiple perspectives, Wen Boren has the viewer look down on the foreground, yet up at the distant mountain.

The overall composition––trees, rocks, figures and buildings, mountains and water––is complex and yet lucid and serene, the use of ink and brush light and masterfully controlled. This particular scene most likely portrays a place familiar to the literati of the Wu region. Two paintings, one by Wen Zhengming and one by his son Wen Jia 文嘉 (1501–1583), can be compared with the Seattle scroll by Wen Boren.

The Wen Zhengming painting in the Shanghai Museum, titled The Pure Wonder of Stone Lake (Shihu qing sheng tu juan 石湖清勝圖卷), (fig. 1) bears the following artist's inscription:

“In the year renchen (1532), the seventh month, after mid-month, Zhengming depicted the pure wonder of Stone Lake.”

Fig. 1 Wen Zhengming, The Pure Wonder of Stone Lake, 1532. © Shanghai Museum.

The Wen Jia painting, Autumn Colors by Stone Lake (Shi hu qiu se 石湖秋色), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, (fig. 2) also depicts the wonderful scenery of Stone Lake, the famous place in the Suzhou region.

Fig. 2: Wen Jia, Autumn Colors by Stone Lake, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Upon comparing the three paintings—the Seattle Wen Boren, the Shanghai Wen Zhengming and the Taipei Wen Jia––the mountains in the Seattle painting bear a striking resemblance to the contour of the mountains, or steep hills, rising above Stone Lake as seen in the works by Wen Zhengming and Wen Jia, suggesting that the mountain in Seattle's Wen Boren most likely represents Lengjia 楞枷 Hill, at the foot of which lies Stone Lake.

In the foreground of the Wen Jia painting is a bridge known as Xingchun 行春 Bridge. On the mountaintop is a pavilion named Zhiping 治平 temple, also called Lengjia temple.Quoted from Chiang Chiao-shen, “Ke shao fufeng de Wen Jia,” Shuangxi duhua suipi (Taipei: National Palace Museum Press, 1977), 172. This is a place that the literati of the Wu region often frequented and many Wu school painters were inspired by the scenery of this place, as is evident in their landscape paintings. An example would be Hou Maogong’s 侯懋功 (fl. ca. 1522–1562) Landscape (Shanshui tuzhou 山水圖軸) (1570), (fig. 3) which portrays the same scenery as Wen Jia’s painting Autumn Colors by Stone Lake.

Fig. 3: Hou Maogong, Landscape, 1570. Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Like Wen Zhengming’s The Pure Wonder of Stone Lake 石湖清勝圖卷, the Seattle Wen Boren work does not depict the mountaintop pavilion. Nonetheless, might not Wen Boren be inspired by the same scenery while looking at Lengjia Hill from a different angle?

Wen Boren’s Floating on Lake Tai (Fan Taihu tuzhou 泛太湖圖軸) in the Palace Museum, Beijing, (fig. 4) is inscribed: “[Painted] in the spring of 1569, after drifting from Xukou to Lake Tai.” From the middle of the lake a triangular hill can be seen, resembling the distant peak of Wen Boren's landscape in the Seattle example; however, the Seattle painting brings the viewer closer to the mountain. Even if the Seattle scroll does not depict Stone Lake specifically, no doubt it represents the scenery of the Lake Tai vicinity.

Fig. 4: Wen Boren, Floating on Lake Tai, 1569. Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

During the prime of the Wu school of painting, surrounded by the beauty of the Suzhou landscape, together scholars would climb the mountains, searching for wonderful views, and lingering in the glory of the mountains. In their paintings, they captured the beauty of specific sites, their rivers and hills. They painted in open pavilions; on bridges they chatted about gardening, and in thatched huts they tasted and discussed the subtlties of different kinds of tea. These activities were seen as demonstrating the sentiments and eloquence that were at the core of being a literatus. The Seattle scroll truly captures the mountains and lakes where the literati spent their days.

The style of the Seattle Wen Boren has its source in the art of Wen Zhengming. As seen below, the use of brush and ink is similar to the detailed brushwork of Wen Zhengming's landscape paintings. We can view the Seattle Wen Boren as a typical example of the tranquil, detailed, refined manner of the Wen Zhengming tradition.

The Wen tradition has its roots in earlier painting, as Wang Shizhen states:

“Wen Daizhao (Wen Zhengming) surpasses Zhao Wuxing [Zhao Mengfu], Shuming [Wang Meng] and Zijiu [Huang Gongwang], occasionally reaching the essence of Dong Beiyuan’s [Dong Yuan]. Generally speaking, his style has much in common with that of Shen Zhou.”文待詔徵明見前待詔出趙吳興(孟頫)及叔明(王蒙)子久(黃公望)間有董北苑(源)筆意,大概得自啟南(沈周)不少也 。Wang Shizhen王世貞, Yanzhou sibu gao弇州四部稿, in SKQS, 155. 19b-20a.

The fact that Wen Boren was seen as attaining the level of Wen Zhengming is part of this same story.

As for the close relationship between the Seattle Wen Boren and the painting methods of Wen Zhengming, we can confirm the connection if we look at Wen Zhengming's The Emerald-shaded Studio (Ying cui xuan tu 影翠軒圖) (dated to 1520), (fig. 5). Similar to the Wen Zhengming painting, the Seattle scroll uses delicate, modulated brushstrokes, and wet and dry ink to describe the twists and turns of the trunks of the cypress trees.

Fig. 5: Wen Zhengming, The Emerald-shaded Studio, 1520. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The dots that describe the tree leaves in the Seattle scroll—and are often seen in other works by Wen Boren—can also be compared to those of Wen Zhengming’s The Emerald-shaded Studio. Like Wen Zhengming, in the foliage of the Seattle scroll Wen Boren combines dark and light dots, organizing them in radiant clusters like the stamen of plum blossoms. Both paintings also contain another type of tree with leaves that are composed of "small circles" that set it apart from those composed of “dot leaves.”

These stylistic comparisons corroborate textual statements, such as “he studied [painting] with Wen Zhengming.” His brushwork and use of ink is very close to that of Wen Zhengming. If we compare it to the style of such contemporaries as Wu school painters Lu Zhi 陸治 (1470–1559), Qian Gu 錢穀 (1508–1572), Ju Jie 居節 (ca. 1524–ca.1585), all follow this same tradition.

As for the high peaks in the distance of the Seattle Wen Boren painting, the artist uses long brushstrokes to delineate the contours of the hilly mountain; the space between the mountain peaks is interspersed with small rocky crags, called fantou 礬頭 (alum-crystal tops).Translator’s notes: this term is used for aspects of landscape painting that feature hard, sharp mountain rocks. Mi Fu米芾 (1051–1107) and Huang Gongwang黃公望 both credited Dong Yuan 董源and Juran 巨然 for forming this distinctive feature. See Mi Fu, Hua shi畫史, in SKQS, 1.7a and Huang Gongwang Xia shanshui jue寫山水訣, in Zhongguo shu hua quan shu 中國書畫全書, vol. 2, Shanghai: Shuhua chuban she, 2000, 762; Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih, Early Chinese Texts on Painting (Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press, 1985), 231; 263. Along the edge of the mountain are scattered small shrubs and trees. The long strokes used to describe the texture of the mountain's surface are known as pima cun 披麻皴 (hemp-fiber strokes) and associated with the tradition of Dong Yuan 董源 (?-ca. 962). This is also what was meant by Wen Zhengming “occasionally reaching the essence of Dong Beiyuan” as discussed previously.

We could look back as well to Shen Zhou沈周 (1427–1509) who also used this brush technique, or even earlier to Huang Gongwang 黃公望 (1269–1354) and the structure of the mountain peaks in his famous work Living in the Fuchun Mountains (Fu chun shan ju tu 富春山居圖), which is very similar in appearance.

Generally speaking, the Wu school painters took the Four Yuan Masters as their models as well as Dong Yuan and Juran of earlier times. Wen Boren worked hard to master the tradition of Dong Yuan. Wang Shizhen writes,

“Wang Bozuo [Yifu宜輔] of Huayin came seeking [my calligraphy for] the grave inscriptions of his father Wang Shanshi (Hongzhuan弘撰, 1622–1702). He took Wen Wufeng’s [Wen Boren] painting Mount Li (Lishan tu), as his payment. The forgoing [Mt. Li] had the inscription, ‘In the fourth month of 1575 the first month of summer, I painted Pondering the Past in Mount Li (Lishan diaogu tu) in the style of Dong [Yuan] and Ju [Ran].’ That does give the impression of sightseeing trips of the Tang era. 華隂王伯佐,來求其父山史墓銘,以文五峰畫〈驪山圖〉潤筆。上方自題云:『萬曆乙亥(1575)孟夏四月,以董巨墨法寫〈驪山弔古圖〉。』葢唐世游觀勝地。”Wang Shizhen, Gu fu yu ting za lu古夫于亭雜録, in SKQS, 3.13.

As for Yuan artist Huang Gongwang, who painted in the Dong Yuan tradition, he also was among those who influenced Wen Boren. The Wen Boren painting The Stone Cliffs of Tianchi Lake (Tian chi shi bi) 天池石壁, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, has the inscription “In the year 1558, on the 16th day of the fifth month, Wufeng Wen Boren composed this painting.” This painting is recorded by Gao Shiqi 高士奇 (1644–1703, who describes it as follows: “The brushwork is robust, the trees and rocks are archaic and strong, not inferior to the original (This points to Huang Gongwang’s painting of the same title Tian chi shi bi). Even Taishi (Wen Zhengming) may not reach this level. People rarely see this type of robust work [from Wen Boren], and hence overlook him. 筆法渾厚,樹石古勁,不減真蹟。(指黃公望畫有〈天池石壁〉)即太史(文徵明)猶當少避,世人恒見其板實一路,遂忽之耳。”Gao Shiqi, Jiangcun xiao xia lu 江村銷夏録, in SKQS, 3.60.

In addition, Wen Boren paintings such as the Cloudy Dusk in Xiangtan (Xiangtan yun mu tu) 湘潭雲暮圖, Capital Museum, Beijing, (dated to 1552), Woody Valley (Qiaogu tu) 樵谷圖 (dated to 1560), (fig. 6), Beijing Palace Museum, and Immortal Dwelling in Xishan (Xishan xianguan) 谿山仙館 (dated to 1564), Guangzhou Art Gallery, are all examples of works by Wen Boren which are influenced by the style of Huang Gongwang. The texture strokes of the mountains and rocks are “hemp fiber strokes.” The Seattle scroll of 1561 is very close in time to Qiaogu tu and Xishan xianguan, which explains the striking similarity of texture strokes.

Fig. 6: Wen Boren, Woody Valley, 1560. Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.

As later generations often note, the style of Wang Meng 王蒙 (1308–1385) also exerted a strong influence on the painting of both Wen Zhengming and Wen Boren. Reviewing extant paintings by Wen Boren, we can understand the statement “each [painting] emulates the brushwork of Wang Shuming [Meng].”Han Ang 韓昂, Tuhui baojian xubian 圖繪寶鑑續編, SKQS, 15. The full line reads: “Wen Boren, zi Decheng, hao Wufeng, was from Changzhou. He was skilled at painting landscapes and people. In every case he emulated the brushwork of Wang Shuming 文伯仁,字徳承,號五峯,長州人。善畫山水、人物,每效王叔明筆法,多得意儼然. In the Ming period, Wang Keyu 汪砢玉 (1587–?) recorded that he had in his possession a painting by Wen Boren emulating Wang Meng’s Reclusive Fisherman of Huaxi (Huaxi yu yin tu 花溪漁隱圖).Wang Luoyu, Shan hu wang 珊瑚網, in SKQS, 35.11.

In addition, Zhao Boju 趙伯駒 (1120–1182) and Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254–1322) served as sources for Wen Zhengming and Wen Boren, as a group of blue-green landscapes attest. Examples of this notable tradition are Wen Boren’s Isle of Fanghu (Fang hu tu 方壺圖) and The Yuanjiao Studio (Yuanjiao shuwu zhou 圓嶠書屋軸), both in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Referring to Isle of Fanghu (fig. 7), the Qing scholar Zhang Chou notes: “The emphasis on color completely follows Zhao Qianli [Zhao Boju], [thus the painting] is extremely fine, also archaic and elegant, especially with regards to the composition. No doubt it is a divine work. 重著色全學趙千里,精細之極,亦復古雅,尤是布景卓絶,足稱無上神品。”Zhang Chou張丑, Qinghe shuhua fang清河書畫舫, in SKQS, 12.37A.

Fig. 7: Wen Boren, Isle of Fanghu, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Let's compare Wen Boren and Wen Zhengming. Wang Shizhen, as quoted above, was astonished that Wen Boren “used foul language and tended to abuse those around him;” however, he “often demonstrated brilliance, his handscrolls and large hanging scrolls almost surpassing those of Wen Zhengming.” Wang also said, “I do not know where such a wealth of artistic creativity comes from. 不知胸中何以富此一段丘壑也。”Wang Shizhen, Yanzhou sibu gao, 170.6. Wen Zhengming and his nephew Wen Boren, both members of the Wen family, were cited as sources of artistic brilliance.

Tang Zhiqi 唐志契 (1579–1651) states: “[Wen Zhengming’s] son Wen Jia and his nephew [Wen] Boren inherited his excellence: Wen Jia's foliage is thick and lush; Boren's mountain ranges are luxuriant. They both served as models for painters. (文徵明)子嘉、猶子伯仁,並嗣其妙,嘉竹木扶疎;伯仁巖巒欝茂,並幟繪林。" Tang Zhique, Hui shi wei yan繪事微言, SKQS A.58.

Although Tang does not say who is the better artist, other assessments often correspond to “[Wen Boren’s] reputation was no less than that of Hengshan (Wen Zhengming). 擅名不在衡山(徵明)之下” Later, in his Hua shi huiyao 畫史會要, Zhu Mouyin 朱謀垔 (active ca. 1631) writes in regard to Wen Boren, “In composing landscapes, he used vigorous brushstrokes and painted luxuriant mountains; his reputation was no less than that of Hengshan. 作山水,筆力清勁,巖巒鬱茂,擅名不在衡山之下。”Zhu Mouyin, Hua shi huiyao畫史會要, in SKQS 4.47. After this, in his Wu sheng shi shi 無聲詩史 Jiang Shaoshu copied verbatim the foregoing description.Jiang Shaoshu, Wusheng shi shi, (Taibei: Xinwenfeng, 1989), 2.14-15. And as we noted earlier, Gao Shiqi argued “Even Taishi 太史 (Wen Zhengming) may not reach this level.”

Wen Zhengming’s ancestral home is in Hunan and so he took the hao, or sobriquet, Hermit of Hengshan Mountain (Hengshan jushi 衡山居士) and Wen Boren the hao Wufeng五峰. The Xiang chuan ji湘川記 records, “There was the Spirit Altar of Zhuling and the Treasure Cave of Taixu. Matching the constellation of Yizhen, aligning with the Big Dipper, and so it is called Heng Mountain. The mountain has five peaks (wufeng 五峰). The first is called Zigai 紫蓋 (Purple top), the second Mixue 密雪 (Hidden in Snow), the third Zhurong 祝融, the fourth is Tianzhu 天柱 (Pillar of Heaven), the fifth Shilin 石廪 (Stone Granary).”Pan Zimu潘自牧, Ji zuan yuan hai 記纂淵海, SKQS, 6.21. Is Wen Boren’s hao an expression of his indebtedness to Wen Hengshan (Wen Zhengming)? Or does he mean to stand up to his uncle? This question merits further consideration. Overall, in regards to Wu school painting, among those students or disciples who studied and emulated Wen Zhengming, Wen Boren stood out and was recognized as an exceptional talent.

Wen Boren’s inscription on the Seattle scroll reads: “Written on a spring day in the year xinyou 辛酉 (40th year of the Jiajing reign period, 1561), by Wen Boren [hao] Wufeng.” Wen Boren’s small standard script is extremely fine as can also be seen in his calligraphy on his portrait. His brushstrokes are slender and strong, drawing on Wen Zhengming's. However, Wen Boren's calligraphy also reflects his study of Wang Xizhi’s Preface to the Sacred Teachings (Sheng jiao xu 聖教序). A similar example of a Wen Boren inscription in a single line of running standard script, is found on his Fresh Waters and Clearing Hills (Xin shui qing luan tu 新水晴巒圖), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Wen Boren, Fresh Waters and Clearing Hills (detail), 1570. Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

As for seals on the Seattle scroll: the first seal is composed of the characters wen, bo, ren 文伯仁. The third character ren, in seal script, is composed of the characters of qian 千on top and xin 心 on the bottom. It is worth noting that in seal script ren (benevolence) is based on qian (thousand) and xin (heart).Translator’s note: this is part of a tradition drawing on the Xu Shen’s Shuowen jiezi 說文解字. According to this work the graph ren is described as: “meaning close in relation. It is based on the graphs ren 人 and er 二. As for the graph ren 忎, it is the ancient style script for ren 仁based on the graphs qian千 and xin心. See Ding Fubao 丁福保 ed., Shuowen jiezi gulin 詁林 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 8A.3472.7917. This is the character ren.

A second seal reads Recluse of Wufeng (Wufeng shanren 五峰山人). The two seals are placed one above the other, which can also be seen on another landscape by Wen Boren, donated by Lin Zongyi 林宗毅 to the National Palace Museum, Taipei (fig. 9). Wen Boren frequently used the seal Wufeng shanren on many of his works.

Fig. 9: Wen Boren, Landscape Painting (detail), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The Seattle scroll bears a title label written by the famous Japanese Sinologist Naito Torajirō 內藤虎次郎 (1866–1934), which reads, “From the Qing imperial collection, landscape by Wen Wufeng 清內府舊藏文五峰山水.” In regard to Naito mentioning the imperial collection, the painting has a number of Qing imperial seals: Qianlong Yulan zhi bao 乾隆御覽之寶, Qianlong jianshang 乾隆鑑賞, Sanxi tang jing jian xi 三希堂精鑑璽, Yizi sun宜子孫, and Shi qu bao ji 石渠寶笈. This combination of five Qing imperial seals of the Emperor Qianlong are customarily called wu xi quan 五璽全 (“complete set of the ruler’s five seals”), and is consistent with the combination of seals on other paintings.

It is worth noting that in both the Qianlong and Jiaqing periods the paintings in the Qing imperial collection were recorded in the multi-volume Shi qu bao ji 石渠寶笈 and Mi dian zhu lin 秘殿珠林.Regarding the compilation of the Shi qu bo ji and the Midian zhu lin see preface to the National Palace Museum editions of these two works. Guoli Gugong bowu yuan ed., Shi qu bao ji Mi dian zhu lin (Taibei: Guoli Gugong bowu yuan, 1971). If the Seattle painting had come from the Qing imperial collection, it ought to have been recorded in the first edition of the Shi qu bao ji, but we find no record of it. How can this absence be explained?

It is worth noting that the paintings held today in the National Palace Museum collection came from the Qing imperial collection, and the majority are recorded in either the Shi qu bao ji or the Mi dian zhu lin. Since 1989 they have systematically been published in the Gu gong shu hua tu lu故宮書畫圖錄. Similar to the previous publication, Gu gong shu hua lu 故宮書畫錄, both took the Shi qu bao ji and Mi dian zhu lin as their basis. The main difference is that the Gu gong shu hua tu lu included images, making it easier to examine the imperial seals. According to the editors of this work, even though some objects had Qing imperial seals, the works were not always included in the Shi qu bao ji or the Mi dian zhu lin.

Aside from the Wu xi quan seals mentioned in volume one of the Shi qu bao ji, objects included in this collection should also include the seal of the palace in which the painting was kept, and that seal is known as Dian cang yin (“seal of the palace hall”). This accords with the preface to the Shi qu bao ji, which was written at the time of compilation (8th year of the Qianlong reign period [1743] in the 12th month on the 16th day) and states: “According to the imperial edict of the Qianlong Emperor, [record] whatever objects are held in the Qianqing Palace, the Wanshan Palace, the Dagao Palace and the like, places and divides them by location without losing their proper order and allowing later generations to enjoy them and know where they are located. Hereafter let the location of storage be marked [on the object]. 奉(乾隆)上諭,何者貯乾清宮,何者貯萬善殿、大高殿等處,分別部居,無相奪倫,俾後人披籍,而知其所在。嗣後復有歸藏內府者,案號續編。”Shi qu bao ji Mi dian zhu lin, 1.

Shi qu bao ji and Mi dian zhu lin are in separate volumes, and they are ordered by the places where the paintings were kept. That is also why the paintings with the “Five Complete Seals” should also have “the palatial hall seal.” The Seattle scroll does not have “the palatial hall seal,” nor is it published in the Shi qu bao ji. Perhaps after the five seals were stamped on the painting, it was not officially placed in a particular hall. That is why it has the Shi qu bao ji seal, but is not published in the book.

As for the location of the five Qing imperial seals on the Seattle landscape, Qianlong Yulan zhi bao 乾隆御覽之寶 is to the upper right, Qianlong jianshang 乾隆鑑賞 (the round seal) is to the upper left, Sanxi tang jing jian xi三希堂精鑑璽 and Yizi sun 宜子孫 are to the left side, one on top of the other, and Shi qu bao ji 石渠寶笈 is to the right. This is the proper positioning according to the first edition of the Wu xi quan.

Ordinarily in addition to these seals, there was also a seal of the palace store house, the so-called Dian cang bao seal under the Shi qu bao ji seal such as Yushufang jian cang bao 御書房鑑藏寶, Yangxin dian jian cang bao 養心殿鑑藏寶, Chonghua gong jian cang bao 重華宮鑑藏寶 and so on. The Seattle painting does not have the Dian cang bao and so it is not recorded in the Shi qu bao ji.

The previously discussed Wen Zhengming painting, The Emerald-shaded Studio 影翠軒圖, found in the National Palace Museum collection (fig. 5) is in a similar situation. This work also not only has the Wu xi quan seals with the same seal placement as the seals in Seattle’s painting, but it also lacks the Dian cang bao seal. The editors of the Gu gong shu hua tu lu state: “This object has the Shi qu bao ji seal. It is not recorded in the Shi qu bao ji.”Guoli Gu gong bowu yuan, ed., 國立故宮博物院, Gu gong shu hua tu lu故宮書畫圖錄 (Taibei: Guoli Gu gong bowu yuan, 1991), 156. The Wen Boren painting Isle of Fanghu方壺圖 is recorded in the first volume of the Shi qu bao ji under the Yangxin Palace. Other than the Wu xi quan, it also has the seal Yangxin dian jian cang bao. The placement of seals for the Qing palace collection is related to the composition of the painting, thus the placement of seals for the Seattle Wen Boren and Wen Zhengming's The Emerald-shaded Studio is the same but it is different for Isle of Fanghu.

In conclusion, we have reason to believe that Wen Boren's Landscape in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum was once in the imperial collection at the Forbidden City. This lyrical work exemplifies the quintessential Ming literati sensibility and must have been painted when the then 59-year-oldWen Boren, known for his testiness, was in a serene mood. Perhaps more importantly, his extraordinary ability to internalize the pictorial conventions of ancient masters in this poetic rendering of Stone Lake and Lengjia Hill makes both the painting and those famous sites accessible to viewers, past and present.

© 2013 by the Seattle Art Museum


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