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A Female Immortal Playing a Xiao Flute

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Period: Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Medium: ink on silk
Format: hanging scroll

Artist(s): Zhang Lu (act. ca. 15th c.)

Dimensions: 141.3 × 91.8 cm

Zhang Lu, courtesy name Tianchi and style name Pingshan, was a native of Xiangfu (today's Kaifeng in Henan province). He was a painter active in the Hongzhi period (1488-1505) of the Ming dynasty. Enrolled as a Cultivated Talent (xiucai, a man qualified to participated in the Provincial Examination in the civil service recruitment examination sequence), he studied in the National University (taixue, the highest education establishment in ancient China). But his romantic mentality led him to find more pleasure in befriending all kinds of artists and painting. His style was much influenced by master painters Dai Jin (1388-1462) and Wu Wei (1459-1508), characterized by vigorous and swift brushwork.  
  This work bears Zhang Lu's style name "Pingshan" and a vermillion seal reading "Zhang Lu".   
  A beautiful young lady sits under a pine by a river, playing a xiao flute (a Chinese vertical flute). There's a peach of immortality by her side; its disproportionally large size indicats that this is a wonderland and the girl is actually an immortal. The image of this immortal differs greatly from the traditional pattern of immortal painting that can be seen in Gu Kaizhi's Nymph of the Luo River and in Dunhuang murals of the Tang dynasty (618-907). Unlike earlier counterparts' slender shapes and ethereal manner, this lady has a bright face and a full body. While immortals often wear delicate and supple dresses, the one's clothing is rather humble and plain. The natural, humane beauty makes this immortal more like a country girl.   
  The figure was portrayed with varied strokes. Her face was depicted smoothly with refined center-tip strokes, while the folds of the clothing were outlined unrestrainedly with a rich variety strokes. These details suggested Zhang Lu's reference to Wu Wei's wild style besides his inheritance of the freehand tradition from Wu Daozi (680-759) of the Tang dynasty and Liang Kai (act. early 13th c.) of the Southern Song (1127-1279). Jiang Shao noted in his History of Silent Poems that Zhang Lu "modeled Wu Wei's craftsmanship to develop a cursive and sweeping brushwork, but in terms of subtleness his works still pale in comparison with Wu's." Xu Qin also commented in his Painting Chronicle of Ming Dynasty that "Zhang's figure paintings were greatly influenced by Wu Wei. He lacked some subtleness and delicacy of the latter, but was still highly impressive with his bold and sweeping style. His fame was second only to Wu Wei during the Hongzhi period (1488-1505)."

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