China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
“Even the ancient masters would have been proud to call Qiu Ying’s brush their own. And yet,” art connoisseur Wang Zhideng (1535–1612) once mused, “it seems like he cannot help but paint the snake and add legs to it.” Despite his prodigious talent, Ming dynasty painter, Qiu Ying (ca. 1495–1551), was often subjected to such accusations of ostentation, as well as to critiques that he lacked an individual artistic voice. Qiu’s chameleon-like ability to undertake wholly dissimilar styles—from baimiao to jiehua, channeling masters like Wu Daozi and Li Song, and simultaneously weaving together motifs and subjects in virtuosic feats of visual intertextuality—continues to confound generations of connoisseurs and art historians alike. Yet it was this very versatility and his uncanny control of the brush that propelled Qiu from a humble background into Suzhou’s exclusive literati circles. A hired painter, Qiu was obligated to mute his personal style, subordinating it to his patron’s commissions. Qiu Ying, this paper argues, managed to negotiate these delicate requirements while exhibiting not only a tantalizing mastery of style and medium, but also an erudite knowledge of art history gained via access to his patrons’ formidable collections. By reading works from Qiu’s oeuvre alongside contemporaneous and early-Qing connoisseurship, this paper demonstrates how such critiques underscore the very elements of technical mastery, encyclopedic visual literacy, and profound aesthetic sensibilities, which enabled him to partake in visual dialogues within Suzhou’s elite milieu, ultimately earning him a place in the ledgers of Chinese art history.