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Shen Zhou



Court Painting

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Shen Zhou

Wen Zhengming

Wu School


 Shen Zhou worked in the mid Ming Dynasty and together with his student Wen Zhengming is considered to be the most important Literati painter of his times and one of the four most important painters of the whole Ming period (1368-1644). During the Ming the Literati tradition Shen represented had already been well established. The old concept of the amateur Literati painter which serves as a government official and only paints in his free time as a source of spiritual enjoyment, shifted towards the concept of a Literati painter which painting is actually his main occupation and source of livelihood. Born into a family of intellectuals, Shen Zhou was an example of a literati who devoted himself exclusively to art, he was the founder of the southern literati Wu School, sometimes known as the Wu Men School and was mainly influenced by the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty, at first Wang Meng which was a friend of his great-grandfather and later by Huang Gongwang and Wu Zhen but this influence can be traced back to the masters of the Five Dynasties period, Dong Yuan and Ju Ran. Shen painted landscapes, flower-and-birds and people but was mostly noted for the former two and especially for his unique landscapes.


One of Shen Zhou's main contributions is the further infusion of poetry and calligraphy into painting, he was a recognized poet and calligrapher so his art must be seen as a kind of interplay between the visual aspect and the emotions the poetry evoke in the viewer. In the Ming Dynasty it was rather common for literati painters to let a close friend or an influential poet or calligrapher to add poems, prose or even general opinions and essays to accommodate their paintings. This assimilation of calligraphy and poetry into painting gave Literati art a collective dimension of collaborative art and not the mere expression of one person.


Shen Zhou's landscapes are divided into two styles: 'delicate Zhou' referring to his earlier works and 'Bold Zhou' referring to his late and more mature works. In his late works Shen Zhou uses bold and free strokes with ink washes, his paintings depict the lush gardens, flowers and birds of the Suzhou area where he lived. More often than not his landscapes display scholars strolling and sitting amidst nature and contemplating life in a rather lofty manner. This reflects the kind of leisure the Ming literati scholars indulged in and the type of life style they saw as ideal for an educated man of letters who strives to reach a state of harmony with society but mainly with nature.


Shen's Flower-and-Bird paintings were also highly appreciated and influenced masters of later generations such as the famous Xu Wei and the eight eccentrics of Yangzhou.


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