Image: 70 x 40 5/8 in. (177.8 x 103.2 cm)
Overall with mounting: 10 ft. 5 1/2 in. × 49 5/8 in. (318.8 × 126 cm)
Overall with knobs: 10 ft. 5 1/2 in. × 53 1/4 in. (318.8 × 135.3 cm)
From the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection, Gift of Oscar L. Tang, 1991
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 215
Nearly three hundred years after the death of the Song academician Ma Yuan (act. ca. 1190–1225), a Ming emperor proudly declared Zhong Li to be Ma Yuan reborn. Indeed, Zhong's works, painted in a typically bold, breezy, almost contemptuous manner, represent the end of the Ma Yuan tradition. Brought to this level of large-scale power, directness, and nearly total absence of subtlety or nuance, the tradition of Ma Yuan perhaps could not evolve further. Zhong Li was among the last great court painters in this lineage.
This strongly painted composition, the best known of Zhong Li's signed works, is a classic Ming academic-style picture; it continues Dai Jin's (1388–1462) monumental refiguration of the Southern Song academic manner. The interior dynamics are even more spectacular than in earlier works in the tradition, from the explosive energies of the plunging waterfall and dramatically towering cliff face to the twisted pines coiling out like springs from the stone walls. There is also something quite imperial in the pose of the seated figure on the garden terrace, leaning back like the master of his universe to observe the potent forces of nature as they conduct a special performance for him alone.
Inscription: Artist’s signature (1 column in semi-cursive script)