Lady with Fan, by Tang Yin (1470–1523).

Tang Yin, who wrote under the pen name Taohuaanzhu, meaning Master of the Peach Cottage, was one of the four masters of the Wu Painting School during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). After failing to gain a political position in the Ming civil service he joined the ranks of the literati, integrating poetry, calligraphy, and painting into a coherent and harmonious entity.

A Ming dynasty (1368–1644) literati painter, poet, and calligrapher, Tang Yin (1470–1523) was born into a tradesman’s family in Wu, the ancient name of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province. In his teen years during the middle Ming dynasty Tang was already acquainted with a literary circle of educated elite. He received the highest honor in the provincial juren (recommended man) civil service examination in 1498. In the next year Tang went to Beijing for the national examination, but he was implicated in bribing the exam supervisor. At trial he was fined, and his juren degree was rescinded. This blow crashed Tang’s hopes of a political career forever.

Tang Yin was one of the four masters of the Wu Painting School, along with Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, and Qiu Ying. Tang learned from the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126) master Li Tang (1066–1150) in depicting monumental mountains. In one of his famous paintings, Whispering Pines on a Mountain Path (hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 1516, National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan), the dominant mountain recedes diagonally to the background and then rises majestically near the top of the painting space. Willows sway in the breeze by the lake, and the setting sunlight permeates the whole painting. Long, thin brushstrokes portray the scene, while light washes of blue green and grayish brown define the shade and texture of the rocks. Two figures, one in a scholarly dress, enjoy the waterfall over a bridge and below the densely foliaged pine trees. It is a refreshing view that embodies the splendor and totality of nature as well as the beauty and elegance of rural scenes.

Tang Yin also excelled in painting tree and flower subjects, such as bamboos, plums, and lilies, a fitting theme that symbolizes the perseverance and regeneration of the ideal literati. In his Plum Blossoms an old bough breaks off short, and in the middle of the break strong young shoots spring to both sides in opposing movements. However, Tang Yin was particularly fond of peach blossoms, as his pen name “Taohuaanzhu” (Master of the Peach Cottage) suggests. He wrote many poems about peach flowers.

When he painted human figures, Tang Yin’s depiction of ordinary ladies and maidens speaks about his familiarity with traditional subjects and his sympathy toward courtesans and prostitutes. In Silk Fan in the Autumn Breeze (hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Shanghai Museum), a beautiful young lady stands alone, silhouetted against the diagonal hill slope and the shaded rocks. The accompanying inscription disapproves of the degraded human relations and criticizes those who sought favor with people in power.

Tang Yin contributed to literati painting by combining the intensity and heroism of the northern school’s landscape painting with the subtlety and warmth of the southern school that appeared in the early Northern Song dynasty. He integrated poetry, calligraphy, and painting into a coherent and harmonious entity and expanded the scope of literati painting in a broad range of subjects.

Further Reading

Cahill, M. (1993). Tang Yin and Wen Zhengming as artist types: A reconsideration. Artibus Asiae, 53(1–2), 228–248.

Clapp, A. D. C. (1991). The painting of T’ang Yin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Yang, X. (1997). The Ming dynasty (1368–1644). In R. Barnhart, Y. Xin, N. Chongzheng, J. Cahill, L. Shaojun, & W. Hung (Eds.), Three thousand years of Chinese painting (pp. 215–227). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Source: Jiang, Yu. (2009). TANG Yin. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2190–2191. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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