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Journeys in Time 2010-09-13 Legends from the Central Plains (3)- Along the River at Qingming

09-13-2010 16:39 BJT

Today, we’re continuing our series, in which we investigate some of the best-known legendary people, events and objects associated with the Central Plains region.

Along the River at Qingming is considered one of the most valuable works in Chinese art history, celebrated for its high technical quality and the liveliness with which it portrays the myriad details of its numerous subjects. It depicts the daily life of people from the Song period in the capital, Bianliang, which is today's Kaifeng. The theme is the festive spirit and commotion at Qingming Festival; however, rather than focusing on the holiday's ceremonial aspects, such as tomb sweeping and prayer, it highlights ordinary lives. As an artistic creation, Along the River at Qingming was revered and copied by many court artists of subsequent dynasties.

The Bian River was a vital transport and supply artery for the Song capital. Since supplies usually arrived around the time of the Qingming Festival, the capital’s inhabitants would make visiting the market part of the festivities. The artist, Zhang Zeduan, decided to make the commercial activities along the Bian River his focus, rather than the traditional tomb sweeping, since they were a more typical example of everyday life.

Along the River at Qingming

Twenty or thirty copies were produced, by some of the greatest artists of subsequent dynasties. Each copy follows the overall composition of the original, fairly faithfully; however, there is often considerable variance, where the details are concerned. The Song Dynasty original and the Qing version, in the Beijing and Taipei Palace Museums respectively, are regarded as national treasures and are put on public display only for brief periods every few years.

The fame of “Along the River at Qingming” derives in part from its involvement in centuries of palace intrigues, theft and warfare. But its true value lies in its detailed artistic and geometrically accurate depictions of bridges, wine shops, sedan chairs and boats, all beautifully juxtaposed with the flowing lines of the mountains and other natural scenery. Thanks to the genius of the artist Zhang Zeduan, the painting is a testament to the outstanding level of art during the Song Dynasty; it is also an invaluable depiction of daily life in China during the 12th century.

Editor:James |Source: CNTV

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