Ming loyalist art @ Metropolitan Museum, NY

Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673), Landscapes, Dated 1645

Drawn from one of the finest and most comprehensive private assemblages of the art of the Ming-Qing transition, The Art of Dissent in 17th-Century China: Masterpieces of Ming Loyalist Art from the Chih Lo Lou Collection is now showing at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


The collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and subsequent conquest of China by semi-nomadic Manchu tribesmen from northeast of the Great Wall engendered some of the most traumatic events in Chinese history. This wrenching era also spurred an enormous outpouring of creative energy as many former Ming subjects turned to the arts to express their loyalty to the noble but doomed cause of Ming restoration and to assert their defiance and moral virtue.

The exhibition showcase more than 60 landscape paintings and calligraphies that highlight the intensely personal styles created by the leading artists of that time.


Shitao (1642 – 1707), Landscapes depicting poems of Huang Yanl├╝, Dated 1701 – 1702.

Particularly noteworthy are the clusters of exceptional works by Huang Daozhou, Hongren, Bada Shanren (Zhu Da), and Shitao.

The Manchu conquest followed several decades of political weakness at the Ming court that had left large portions of the country in chaos. When the capital in Beijing fell to a Chinese bandit army in 1644, Manchu forces poised along the Great Wall routed the rebels but then continued their march southward. After crushing Ming resistance in the city of Yangzhou, which was burned for 10 days as an example, the southern capital of Nanjing surrendered, but it took another 40 years to suppress various Ming claimants to the throne and to quell armed rebellions in the south.

During this time, many former Ming subjects maintained their loyalty to the fallen regime by refusing service under the Manchu Qing ("pure") dynasty (1644-1911). To endure the often harsh conditions of alien rule, these so-called "leftover subjects" took psychological as well as physical refuge in nature, and their representations of landscape often project their emotional responses to this radically changed world order. In transforming painting and calligraphy into vehicles for self-expression, they demonstrated a remarkable independence from traditional styles and techniques. For this reason, they have been celebrated as visionary individualists, whose styles have remained influential to the present day.

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