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Court painting in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)

Updated: Apr 3

The Ming period in China, marked by the victory of Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368, was a time of profound political and cultural change. At the height of this dynasty, the self-proclaimed emperor Ming Hongwu introduced reforms that had a significant impact on the art world, particularly in the field of court painting.

Chine, dynastie Ming, XVIIe siècle, encre et gouache sur papier, marouflée et montée en rouleau, estimé 5000 euros par le cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique

Artists of the time were faced with the challenge of merging two parallel artistic traditions: that of professional artists and that of literary artists. Unlike in previous periods, the link between these two categories was not facilitated by a figure such as Zhao Mengfu. The literati maintained a certain distance in court painting, raising questions about how to continue these two distinct traditions.

The Ming court was characterised by the appointment of artists to a variety of positions, with an emphasis on figure painting. The latter was strongly influenced by the political framework, forcing artists to produce imperial portraits designed to evoke the rank and function of the subjects depicted.

"Portrait du prince Zhu Youyuan", Anonyme, v. 1521, rouleau vertical, encre et couleurs sur soie, Musée du Vieux Palais, Beijing

However, the rise in power of the eunuchs at court from the 15th century onwards created tensions. Their growing influence led many scholars to withdraw, preferring to settle in Suzhou, a city renowned for its picturesque landscapes and refined culture. This development marked a significant turning point in artistic expression, demonstrating openness to outside influences and the search for new forms of visual expression.

"Prendre du plaisir à regarder des antiquités", Du Jin, dernier quart du XVe, rouleau vertical, encre et couleur sur soie, 126,1 X 187 cm, MNP, Taipei

Painting under the Ming dynasty evolved from an attempt to evoke the atmosphere of the Southern Song to a deliberate search for the antique, inspired by the Song Huizong model. Scholar's painting, in contrast to court painting, became polychrome under the Ming, marking a new artistic era.

Court painting under the Ming dynasty was both a reflection of the political aspirations of the time and a witness to an artistic renaissance, having a lasting influence on the Chinese artistic landscape right up to the present day.


The market value of Ming dynasty painting remains high, with some pieces fetching impressive sums at auction. The expertise of professionals such as cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique and their partner auction houses plays a crucial role in bringing these art treasures to the attention of collectors and museum institutions. This expertise guarantees the continued preservation and enhancement of these historic works of art. We are at your disposal to appraise and value your Chinese paintings, covering all periods, with particular emphasis on those from the Ming period. You can submit your photos for a quick appraisal or arrange an appointment in Paris and throughout France.


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