UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wu Wei (1459-1508) and Lu Zhi (1496-1576) : the urban hermitage versus the peach blossom spring Lawrence, Marilyn Ann


This thesis focuses on two early and middle Ming (1368-1580) artists and deals with the role of Chinese historiography in the perpetuation of the dichotomy between the so-called "professional" and the so-called "scholar-amateur" artist. While traditional Chinese historical and biographical sources are an invaluable tool for the sinologist, including the Chinese art historian, the convention adopted by Chinese historians of casting subjects into standard characterized roles has contributed to this dichotomy and resulted in the ongoing debate over the value of the professional artist in China. Historically, Chinese critics and collectors have made a distinction between professional and amateur artists. The traditional Chinese critical bias has been in favour of the scholar-amateur artist. In fact, in much critical literature there is a stigma attached to professionalism in painting. The major initial Western studies of Chinese painting represented a continuation of the traditional Chinese dichotomies. More recently, various kinds of positions have been taken up by Western scholars. James Cahill suggests that a correlation can be made between an artist's painting style and social and economic factors (such as lifestyle, formal training, means of livelihood, demands of patrons, and so on). Richard Barnhart instead defends the professional artist: He believes that Cahill perpetuates the bias in favour of the amateur artist, and that a correlation between an artist's style and social and economic factors is not useful, being too restrictive and general. Their debate was taken up in a series of letters, and this debate has continued down to the present. Some of the most recent Western interpretations attempt to try to break down the earlier dichotomies, and my research supports this interpretive trend. In this context the thesis examines the life and works of two relatively minor artists of the Ming dynasty, the "professional" artist Wu Wei (1459-1508) and the "scholar-amateur" artist Lu Zhi (1496-1576). I discuss the Chinese biographical tradition and have translated the appropriate texts and biographies. Then by examining the paintings themselves in the context of the two artists' environments — Wu Wei in Beijing and Nanjing and Lu Zhi in Suzhou — I show that both of these artists enjoyed the freedom of working in a wide variety of different painting traditions. Early and middle Ming painting criticism is also examined, in addition to the influence of Late Ming (1580-1644) painting criticism and its effect on our perception of Chinese artists. In terms of style, aesthetics, and intellectual outlook, Wu Wei and Lu Zhi may, at first, appear to stand at opposite poles. However, my study of the life circumstances of Wu Wei and Lu Zhi reveals that they share surprisingly similar backgrounds, concerns, and views on their artwork. In addition, an examination of the works of these two artists suggests that a greater fluidity of style and of subject matter existed in the early and middle Ming period than one would expect from the theories based on Late Ming criticism. In other words, the distinction between professional and scholar-amateur artists is overdrawn: Wu Wei and Lu Zhi do not fit neatly into the later understandings of accepted categories or roles, nor do their paintings entirely accord with the theories originating in the Late Ming Period.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.