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In examining the painting “Planting Chrysanthemums” by Lu Zhi, it can be seen that it possesses stylistic elements found in the types of hanging scroll paintings during the Ming Dynasty. It is interesting to note that this particular painting was a gift to Lu Zhi’s friend Tao Yuanming (considered one of the greatest Chinese poets) who, at the time, had recently gone into seclusion/retirement when this painting was given.
The reason behind this, as indicated by historical accounts and his own poems, was his aversion towards his career in the military and the sordid politics of the Jin dynasty.
The painting was thus meant as a means of reinvigorating the mind of Yuanming by show casing a calming and ethereally peaceful scene. Lu Zhi’s “Planting Chrysanthemums” invokes a sense of openness through the depiction of a vast clam space in which the viewer observes a land devoid of conflict where peace and calmness reign.
Sense of Space
When examining the painting, one cannot help but see the disparity between the clustered trees, rocks and objects at the bottom to the huge expanse of open space on the top. I believe that this stylistic element was intentional on the part of the artist to enhance the feeling of openness and space within the work wherein the viewer cannot help but attempt to imagine what lies beyond the open expanse that has been showcased.
The result of such introspection is a feeling of insignificance wherein one things that the problems that they have experienced through their life is insignificant compared to the vastness of the world in front of them.
Delicateness of the Lines
In the case of “Planting Chrysanthemums” a heavier shading style on the lines of the painting is eschewed in favor of a lighter and more delicate appearance in the formation of the lines and the shading of the mountains and trees. As it can be seen, a considerable degree of detailing was done in the foreground (i.e. the rocks and trees) and fades as one looks up and to the clouds.
This is of course a recurring element in a large percentage of ancient and modern artwork that depicts vast landscapes, however, in the case of Planting Chrysanthemums” this helps to expand on the feeling of calm openness that the painter was attempting to accentuate. Another facet of the work that should be pointed out is the level of detail that went into trees and rocks.
Even though the painting is supposed to merely depict a landscape and such level of detail is not necessarily, the fact that it is there helps to accentuate the work as a whole by making it seem like a faded picture rather than a mere painting. It was likely the artist’s intent to make the painting seem as a realistic as possible to further enhance the sense of openness as the viewers eye’s shift from the detailed bottom to the open sky and mountains on top.
Shading and Coloring
The painting primarily uses tones of brown and green to help enhance the realism of the trees and mountains, however, these colors are applied in a very light and soft manner thereby creating a more surreal image which does not force its realism onto the viewer but rather transitions them into an appreciation of the quiet nature of the both the painting and the scene it is trying to depict.
The different levels of light tones and shading which grow considerably less pronounced as one views up the scroll is, I believe, an intentional aspect of this painting wherein the rubbed out and light shading effect was meant to depict some form of mist like setting in the foreground and background of the painting.
This helps to accentuate the ethereal quality of the work which many art scholars apparently relate to Lu Zhi’s interpretation of an ever distant utopia that is eternally peaceful.
Depiction of Land, River and Sky
Another facet of the painting that should be explored is the apparent transitory nature of land to river. In the very middle of the painting we can see what appears to be the home of Lu Zhi yet as you look up it seems to take on the characteristics of a river. In fact, from a top down perspective it even seems to be a river from the mountains flowing down.
This can actually be considered as an abstract concept being incorporated into an early Chinese work of art wherein the normal boundaries depicting a separation between land, river and sky is removed. I believe this is an intentional aspect of the work since based on the inscription of the author the home of his friend is near the sea.
As such, the seemingly combined nature of land, river and sky can be considered a subtle message saying that despite the distance between them they will always be connected.
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” Lu Zhi’s “Planting Chrysanthemums” invokes a sense of openness through the depiction of a vast clam space in which the viewer observes a land devoid of conflict where peace and calmness reign. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why “Planting Chrysanthemums” is a more celebrated work of Chinese art from this time period as compared to other examples since its is both different, in the sense that it uses a lighter style of outlining and shading, but familiar due to the thematic elements seen within which were prevalent in the Ming Dynasty.