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A native of Huating (today's Songjiang, a part of Shanghai), Dong Qichang earned his "presented scholar” (jinshi) degree in the Imperial Examination of 1588, the sixteenth year of the Wanli reign (1573-1620). He served in posts as high as the Minister of Rites (libu shangshu). A prominent collector and connoisseur, he is noted especially for his theories on Chinese painting. Following the Chan Buddhist formulation of gradual and sudden enlightenment, he divided painters into the denigrated gradualist Northern School (mostly court painters and professionals) and the inspired, sudden-enlightenment Southern School (mostly poets and officials who painted). He excelled at calligraphy and once stated that his inspiration was drawn from intuitive and spontaneous understanding. Stressing imitation as well as innovation, his paintings are characterized by faux naïf and delicate handling of ink and brush. Backed by his high political status and authority as a connoisseur, his aesthetic theories profoundly influenced later generations of painters and succeeded in dominating Qing dynasty (1644-1911) artistic circles.
In this scroll, Dong Qichang transcribed a septisyllabic quatrain Wandering with Jia Dao (779-843) by Tang (618-907) poet Zhang Ji (776-830) with minor discrepancies. Although the painting is not clearly dated in the inscription, it can be inferred from the calligraphic style and a seal reading "Seal of the Grand Senior Ceremonialist” (dazongbo yin) that it was created in Dong's late years, after he was appointed Minister of Rites in Nanjing and Supervisor of Household Administration of the Heir Apparent (zhanshi fu) in his late seventies. "Senior Ceremonialist” is a common unofficial reference to a Chief Minister. Characteristic of Dong's late works, the natural flow of brush strokes create pleasant and dynamic characters.