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October 25, 2009

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Sun Wei's sages' work shows famous scholars

Sun Wei was a famous painter at the end of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Living in Shu, part of today's Sichuan Province, he was considered the region's top painter and influenced many other famous artists, especially in figure and landscape painting.

The only remaining original work by Sun is preserved today in the Shanghai Museum. The painting, named "Gao Yi Tu" (pictured below) is based on the legend of the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove."

The sages were a group of well-known Chinese Taoist scholars, writers and musicians in the 3rd century who enjoyed getting together in a bamboo grove to discuss books and their work.

The title "Gao Yi Tu," meaning "painting of the elevated and preeminent," reflects the fame the sages enjoyed in Chinese history. However, unfortunately, the painting was damaged and only four sages of the seven remain in the picture.

Sun depicted different poses and facial expressions of the sages and their attendants to illustrate individual characteristics, personalities, and their fields of expertise.

For example, the first sage from the right was Shan Tao, known for ignoring common customs. In the picture, he is sloppily dressed with pride on his face to show he despised society's rituals and rules. His attendant, standing on his right, is carrying the sage's qin, a traditional Chinese musical instrument.

The second sage is Wang Rong holding a ruyi, a curved decorative object for Chinese traditional ceremony, portraying his fame for dancing with the object.

The third sage is Liu Ling, who is rather drunk in the picture, vomiting into a jar that his attendant serves, and the fourth, Ruan Ji, is smiling at the other three sages.

The three characters of the name "Gao Yi Tu" were written by Zhao Jie, an infamous emperor in Song Dynasty (AD 420-479), but also a master in calligraphy.

The combination of calligraphy and painting makes "Gao Yi Tu" one of the top treasures of the museum.


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