A Scholar in the Company of Female Entertainers: Changing Notions of Integrity in Song to Ming Dynasty Painting

Lara Blanchard Hobart and William Smith Colleges

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The Ming dynasty painting Su Dongpo Returning to the Hanlin Academy represents an important departure from earlier images of prominent scholars, demonstrating how the visual tropes associated with integrity change over time. First, it depicts the eleventh-century official following his reinstatement in the capital, quite a change from Song and Yuan images of men of integrity retiring to the wilderness. Second, many female entertainers accompany him, a juxtaposition considered inappropriate for viewing in previous periods but increasingly popular in Ming painting. This paper proposes that by the mid-Ming dynasty, the figure of the female entertainer specifically connotes an urban setting, and, when paired with a scholar, suggests the high-minded and untrammeled qualities of the court or city hermit.

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