Four Masters of the Ming dynasty

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Clearing after Snow on a Mountain Pass by Tang Yin (1470-1524)

The Four Masters of the Ming dynasty (Chinese: 明四家; Pinyin: Míng Sì Jiā; "" in Chinese is "four") are a traditional grouping in Chinese art history of four famous Chinese painters during the Ming dynasty.[1] The group are Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), both of the Wu School, Tang Yin (1470-1523), and Qiu Ying (c.1494-c.1552). They were approximate contemporaries, with Shen Zhou the teacher of Wen Zhengming, while the other two studied with Zhou Chen (周臣). Their styles and subject matter were varied[2]

Other names[edit]

There are several alternative terms for these four leading painters:[1]

  • Four Great Masters of the Ming (Chinese: 明四大家; Pinyin: Míng Sì-dà-jiā; "dà" means "great" here), due to their huge influence on the Chinese painting world during that period and later on.
  • Four Masters of Suzhou[2]
  • Four Masters of Wumen (Traditional Chinese: 吴門四傢; Simplified Chinese: 吴门四家; Pinyin: Wú-mén Sì-jiā); this is because the hometowns and families of these four painters were all originated into Wumen (currently in Suzhou, Jiangsu province), and they were also active there.[3]

The term was coined first in mid-Ming dynasty, probably during the Jiajing Era (Jiajing Emperor), and has flourished since then.

The painters[edit]

The painters were friends when they were living, and were very familiar with each other's work. Their family backgrounds varied;[4] Tang Yin was born into a rich merchant family,[5] Wen Zhengming was born into a bureaucratic family and was himself a government official. Qiu Ying was a craftsman of dyes and lacquers.

Portrait of Shen Zhou, one of the four painting masters

Shen Zhou was one of the main founders of the Wu School (Wu is the ancient and literal name for south Jiangsu, now Taihu Lake area) painting, which was originated from Wumen. Shen's early mentor of painting was Du Qiong (杜琼), and Shen's paternal grandfather was friend of Wang Meng - an artist during the late-Yuan dynasty. Shen's father and uncle were all painters.[4]

Both Shen Zhou and Qiu Ying were most accomplished in Shan shui painting, and they succeed and inherited the painting skills and style of the Imperial Royal Court (so-called Yuan-Ti, 院体). Tang Yin was an all-rounder, and was accomplished nearly all topics of traditional Chinese painting.[5] Wen Zhengming was accomplished in blue-green shan shui painting and the fine style (Simplified Chinese: 工笔; Traditional Chinese: 工筆; Pinyin: Gōng Bǐ).

Wen Zhengming and Shen Zhou had a teacher-student relationship. Zhou Chen was an important coach in Tang's early career, while Qiu Ying was self-learned. The three (except Qiu Ying) were also classic Chinese scholars (文人)and accomplished calligraphists and poets.[1]

Tang Yin later became a character in romance and is very well known in popular culture.[5]

Characteristics of the Four Masters of the Ming dynasty's art work[edit]

Tang Yin's paintings focus on the description of exotic hills and woods. His art works mostly like to represent an image of rivers floating through the mountains and the wind blowing through the trees. One person rides a donkey on the way to the grass hills deep in the mountains. In the near place, there is a woodcutter beginning to cross the bridge. The image of the hills and stones the hills and stones seem very wet. The painter wrote a poem on it, "searching but get nothing, so collect the books and come back. I am still riding a donkey to the green hill; all the body is full of dust. My wife faces the mountains and the cow has its cloth." This picture shows Tang Yin's characteristics in painting.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Four Masters of Ming" (in Chinese). Baidu Baike. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Rawson, p. 340
  3. ^ "Wumen Painting School and Four Master Painters of Suzhou". Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "Biography of Shen Zhou" (in Chinese). Baidu Baike. Retrieved 31 May 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c "Tang Yin: One of the Four Masters of Ming Dynasty". 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2010.