Lidai minghua ji 歷代名畫記 "On famous paintings through the ages", shortly called Minghuaji 名畫記, is a discussion of famous paintings written during the mid-Tang period 唐 (618-907) by Zhang Yanyuan 張彥遠 (early 8th cent.), who has also written a book on calligraphy, Fashu yaolu 法書要錄. Zhang was an offspring of an eminent family that owned countless calligraphies and paintings so that from an early age he had the opportunity to study these objects. The 10-juan-long Lidai minghua ji was finished in 847.
The first three fascicles of the book include a theoretical discussion on painting, the others are critical reviews on individual painters, their lifes and their oeuvres. The theoretical part explains the origin of painting in China, reasons for the rise and decline of the art of painting in certain times, it lists the most famous painters and elucidates the six methods (liufa 六法) of painting, especially for the depiction of mountains and rivers (shanshui 山水, ideal landscape painting), trees and stones. Zang Yanyuan illuminates the relations between painting, customs and education and adds more explanations to the six methods of painting that had first been clarified by Xie He 謝赫 (459?-532?) in his book Gu huapin lu 古畫品錄. The second juan describes the painting schools of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600) and their development of the concept of transforming the artist's intention (yi 意 ) into shape with the help of the brush (yong bi 用筆). This skill was trained by copying (tuoxie 拓寫) the painting of a teacher. At the same time, a system of rating pictures is expounded, and the custom of collecting and connoisseurship. The third juan is important for the knowledge of early Tang-period private collectors and painting in Buddhist and Daoist monasteries in the capital and the various prefectures.
The rest of the book is dedicated to the description of more than 370 individual painters. The first part had apparently also been published separately under the title of Minghua liejing 名畫獵精, as can be known from Chao Gongwu's 晁公武 (1101-1180) descriptive catalogue Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志, and Guo Ruoxu's 郭若虛 (fl. 1071) book Tuhua jianwen zhi 圖畫見聞志. The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Zhou Zhongfu 周中孚 (1768-1821) was of the opinion that Minghua liejing was only a preliminary title of Zhang's book.
The Lidai minghua ji is a very valuable book because it is the first comprehensive description of painting in ancient China, provides the biographies and information on the oeuvre of many painters, including quotations from theoretical books, like Gu Kaizhi's 顧愷之 (c. 348-405) Lunhua 論畫, Wei-Jin shengliu minghua zan 魏晉勝流名畫贊 and Hua yun tai shan ji 畫雲臺山記.
The Lidai minghua lu is included in the series Wangshi shuhua yuan 王氏書畫苑, Jindai mishu 津逮秘書, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原, Xu baichuan xuehai 續百川學海 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. Modern editions were published in 1963 by the Renmin Meishu Chubanshe 人民美術出版社 and in 1964 by the Shanghai Renmin Meishu Chubanshe 上海人民美術出版社, the latter being a commented edition compiled by Yu Jianhua 俞劍華.
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