Lü Ji (呂紀, ca. 1429–1505), courtesy name Tingzhen (廷振) and sobriquet Leyu (樂愚), was a native of Ningbo in Zhejiang. He was a famous court painter of the middle Ming dynasty. Lü Ji entered the court under the Chenghua Emperor (r. 1465–1487) and became highly regarded by the Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1488–1505), serving in the Renzhi Palace (仁智殿) and rising to the sinecure post of Commander of the Imperial Bodyguard. At one time when he fell ill, the emperor continually sent his regards. The poet Hang Huai (1462–1538) in a verse entitled “Inscribed on a Painting of Apricot Blossoms” included the line, “In recent times the paintings of Lü Ji are the best (近時呂紀畫最好).”
According to historical records, Lü Ji first studied the painting style of Bian Wenjin (邊文進, ca. 1356–1428), an important early Ming court painter of bird-and-flower subjects. Lü Ji also once had the opportunity to view and copy famous paintings of the Tang and Song dynasties at the residence of the Imperial Physiognomist, Yuan Zhongche (袁忠徹, 1376–1458), who hailed from the same hometown. At court Lü Ji further learned from the famous painter Lin Liang (林良, ca. 1424–after 1500), finally developing a style of his own combining “fine-brushwork” and “sketching-idea” manners as well as splendor and naturalness. Lü Ji excelled at rendering emotive scenes, using mostly centered brushwork rounded and upright with force, his coloring bright and beautiful but not lacking in warmth and steadiness.
During his service at court, Lü Ji was often summoned for paintings. In order to meet the large number of works required by the court, he might have formed a studio with assistants to help complete these imperial commissions. As a bird-and-flower painter of the court greatly admired by the emperor, his works naturally became models for study. His painting not only influenced bird-and-flower painting of the Ming and Qing dynasties, but also spread to as far as Japan. Among the surviving works to Lü Ji’s name, some are collaborative efforts done with other court painters, many are by other artists who appropriated his name, while others are spurious imitations.