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On a Mountain Path in Spring (山徑春行)

Ma Yuan (ca.1160–1225), Song Dynasty

Album leaf, ink and color on silk, 27.4 x 43.1 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

       Emperor Ningzong’s poem inscribed in the upper right corner reads, “The wild flowers dance when brushed by my sleeves. Reclusive birds make no sound as they shun the presence of people (觸袖野花多自舞,避人幽鳥不成啼).” The calligraphy is direct yet beautifully elegant. In the lower left is the signature of Ma Yuan, a court painter in the reigns of Emperors Guangzong (r. 1190–1194) and Ningzong (r. 1195–1224). These lines of poetry describe the stillness and tranquility of wild flowers, only to be disturbed by the intrusion of a lofty scholar taking a walk, a golden oriole responding by taking off in flight. The painting fuses lyrical meanings as stillness and activity intersect at this moment. As the bird takes flight, the branches of the weeping willow seem to blow in the breeze at the same time. A child attendant carries a wrapped zither proceeding to the middle of the painting while the lofty scholar seems to have stopped in mid-step to ponder the beauty of Nature. He twists his beard as if composing a verse, his view extending into the misty distance of the great void. The direction of the bird in flight and the movement of the willow branches naturally take the viewer’s eyes to the imperial inscription and the poetic intent behind it.

On a Mountain Path in Spring
On a Mountain Path in Spring