An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Huishi weiyan 繪事微言

Mar 10, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Huishi weiyan 繪事微言 "Subtle words on painting" is a book on landscape painting written during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Tang Zhiqi 唐志契 (1579-1651), courtesy name Fuwu 敷五 or Xuansheng 玄生, from Taizhou 泰州, Jiangsu. His book of 4 juan length was published in 1626.

The first fascicle is dedicated to the theory of landscape painting and the practice of collection and preservation. It discusses 51 different topics like titles, transmission, learning theory before starting to paint, the copying of ancient masters, the use of ink and methods of the brush, mists, stones, trees, distance, moss, rules to admire and evaluate paintings, canvas, marketing, and many more aspects.

The rest of the book quotes from a total amount of 32 older books on painting, from Xie He's 謝赫 (c. 500) seminal Gu huapin lu 古畫品錄 to the works of Li Rihua 李日華 (1565-1635). Sadly enough, Tang quotes from some fake books like Emperor Yuan's 梁元帝 (r. 552-554) Hua songshi ge 畫松石格 or Jing Hao's 荊浩 (850?-911?) Hua shanhui fu 畫山水賦.

The overall content of Tang's book is vast and covers all aspects of painting, both in theory and in practice. The author does not only rely on the instructions of the famous masters of the past, but also adds notes derived from his own experience. He presents a complete picture of different approaches to the art of painting. For instance, he contradicts the old principle that painted landscapes were just a product of the mind and emphasizes the importance of practical observation of reality in order to avoid creating a "fuzzy idea of hills and vales" (mohu qiuhe 模糊丘壑). Tang constates that painters of Suzhou 蘇州 were strong in theory, while those of Songjiang 松江 discussed the practice of the brush and concludes that both were wrong in their one-sided approaches. Tang Zhiqi's own theory is that mountains and streams in a landscape painting always reflected the character (xing 性) and emotions (qing 情) of the painter. When copying an ancient master by eyesight (linmo 臨摹), it was important not to take the image as a model, but to take his intention and will as a guideline (shi qi yi, bu shi qi ji 師其意,不師其跡). Old masters were better in painting religious genres, persons, and animals, but contemporary ones were better in mountains, streams, trees, forests, flowers and stones. A landscape painting without withered trees was not well-adjusted, and only the indication of moss (dian tai 點苔) was giving a landscape life and energy (sheng qi 生氣).

The text is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Meishu congshu 美術叢書. A modern edition was published in 1985 by the Remin Meishu Chubanshe 人民美術出版社.

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Zhang Dongfang 張東芳 (2011). "Tang Zhiqi Huishi weiyan zhi chen, xin, bi 唐志契《繪事微言》之“陳”“新”“弊”", Yishu tansuo 藝術探索, 2021 (4): 15-21.
Zhang Dongfang 張東芳 (2021). "Hualun zhong fengge de jiangou: liuyao liuchang yu Huishi weiyan 畫論中風格的建構:“六要六長”與《繪事微言》", Yishu jiaoyu 藝術教育, 2021 (10): 32-35.
Zhang Dongfang 張東芳 (2022). "Huishi weiyan de meixue jiazhi 《繪事微言》的美學價值", Meishu guancha 美術觀察, 2022 (9): 62-63.