Nine Dragons Painting Chen Rong

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Nine Dragons 九龍圖卷

Artist: Chen Rong 陳容 (active first half of the 13th century),
Chinese: Southern Song dynasty
Date: dated 1244
Materials: Ink and touches of red on paper
Dimensions: 46.3 x 1096.4 cm (18 14 x 431 58 in.)

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Francis Gardner Curtis Fund 17.1697
Museum scroll information: Nine Dragons 九龍圖卷

The painter of this handscroll, Chen Rong 陳容 (late Southern Song dynasty, first half of the 13th century), was a scholar-official from Fujian 福建 province in southeastern coastal China. Very little is known about him: He earned his Jinshi 進士 -degree (the highest degree in the official examination system) in 1235 when he was already middle-aged and subsequently became a low official in his home province Fujian. While he remained on that lower level of the bureaucracy and thus relatively poor, Chen Rong pursued his scholarly ambitions through the production of poetry, calligraphy, and painting. Already during his lifetime he was known for his paintings, especially of dragons and bamboo.

This long handscroll of the Nine Dragons is the best-preserved and most reliably attributed example of Chen Rong's dragon painting and carries two inscriptions by his own hand. According to the first inscription, the scroll can be dated to 1244.

This long handscroll depicts, as indicated by the title, nine dragons, which appear among clouds, waves, wind, and cliffs, executed in monochrome ink on paper with some subtle touches of red color.

The handscroll displays a great variety and creativity in painting technique, a combination of seemingly random and spontaneous application of ink with highly controlled and articulated brush technique. For example, some areas of the painting display the use a piece of cloth to apply ink or ink splashes, whereas rock surfaces or dragons' scales are executed with a more controlled brush. These observable features match with descriptions of Chen Rong's painting practice, which report that he painted spontaneously when drunk and used his cap to smear ink on the painting surface. Chen Rong himself refers to this practice in his inscription as well.

The overall effect of the painting is one of continuous movement and energy throughout the scroll, from which the dragons emerge and into which they disappear.

Dragons have been a motif in Chinese art and visual culture from early times onward carrying a variety of meanings, such as embodying the male Yang principle, controlling rain and weather, or as a symbol of the emperor.

Chen Rong's handscroll can be placed into a Daoist context of depicting dragons as implied in his own inscription and in the colophons added to the scroll by Daoist priests from the 12th to the 14th century. The emphasis is on the power and transformative character of the dragons, while the motifs of rain and thunder appear throughout the painting and the colophons.

Wu Tung (ed.), Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston : Tang through Yuan Dynasties, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts and Tokyo: Otsuka Kogeisha, 1996, v.1, cat. no. 83, 77-79

Wu Tung (ed.), Tales from the Land of Dragons: 1000 Years of Chinese Painting, Exhibition Catalog, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1997, cat. no. 92, 197-200

Hsien-chi Tseng, “A Study of the Nine Dragons Scroll,” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, v. 11 (1957), 16-39

view the scroll here :
source : scrolls.uchicago.edu


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