Hardcover with DC, 302 pages, bw illustrations, New York 1982, first edition, as new
With this volume in James Cahill's ongoing account of later Chinese painting it becomes even clearer what a monumental task the author has set himself and how brilliantly he is accomplishing it. Here again is proof that the remarkable achievements of Chinese art, complex as they are, can be made understandable—and enjoyable—to art lovers anywhere. And the book will be no less welcome to scholars, with its masterly summation of recent research and theory together with the original insights of one of the world's leading authorities in the field.
We turn here to the fascinating but extremely complicated art of the late Ming dynasty, with all its currents and crosscurrents of politics, art, and criticism. The time span is less than a hundred years, encompassing the years from 1570, through the decline of Ming fortunes, to the dynasty's final defeat by the Manchu hordes from the north in 1644. The turbulence of the period was echoed in its art, which saw the creation of some of China's great masterworks. Treated in detail are the lives and works of some forty-two of the period's leading artists.
In the author's words: "Late Ming artists, besides producing a body of extraordinary interesting and sometimes superb paintings, were engaged in intricate ways with the past history of their art, and engaged also with their contemporary theorists in an elaborate interaction, a kind of cultural game that was played with especial intensity in this period. Theirs is often an intellectualized, historically conscious art; we can enjoy the paintings without reference to the issues that surround them, but to do so would be a severely limited reading of them. I have chosen instead to try to present them in all their complexity."
There are over 150 plates, including 19 in color, both of familiar masterworks and of pieces that have seldom or never been seen in the West, culled from leading collections in Asia and the West. This wealth of visual delight and instruction ably reinforces a text that is written with a great facility of style.