Monday, January 23, 2006

Lang Shining

The Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy was astounding. Something that especially delighted me was that many of the paintings were by the influential court painter Lang Shining. It has long been a theme of mine that cultures are deeply intertwined so it was great to discover that Lang Shining was the Chinese name of Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) a Jesuit.

His painting The Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Armour on Horseback is on the left (you can see a larger version if you click on it). The characters on his helmet are in Sanskrit, liturgical language of Hinduism and Buddhism. Wheels within wheels within prayer wheels.

A light cool room away from the thrust and bustle of the main exhibition is devoted to the painting and calligraphy of the literati. This is primarily monochrome work produced by artists who prided themselves on their indendence and amatuer status. It is very tranquil and beautiful work that looked very similar to some Japanese styles to me. It is certainly an area I would like to discover more about.

So, fingers crossed, I've moved my understanding a little beyond "The Water Margin", but - for old times' sakes - once more with feeling, can I hear Burt Kwouk?

The ancient sages said, "do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?".

So may one just man become an army.

Nearly a thousand years ago in ancient China, at the time of the Sung dynasty, there was a cruel and corrupt government.

These men riding are outlaws - heroes - who have been driven to live in the Water Margins of Liang Shan Po, far to the south of the capital city. Each fights tyranny with a price on his head, in a world very different from our own. The story starts in legend even then - for our heroes, it was said, were perhaps the souls reborn of other, earlier knights...

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