Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之

A painter of great talents and obsession


Chinese Name: 顾恺之

English Name: Gu Kaizhi

Other Names: Hutou 虎头

Born: 348

Died: 409


One of the four masters of the Six Dynasties 六朝四大家之一

One of the founders of ink painting 水墨画鼻祖之一

Main Works:

The Painting of Luoshen 《洛神赋图》

The Painting of Women’s History 《女史箴图》

Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之
Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之

Brief Biography of Gu Kaizhi

Gu Kaizhi is an outstanding painter, painting theorist, and poet in the Eastern Jin Dynasty 东晋.

Gu Kaizhi (348-409), courtesy name Chang, was born in Wuxi 无锡, Jinling 晋陵 (now Wuxi City 无锡市, Jiangsu Province 江苏省). He has made great achievements in literature and painting.

Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之
Painting Yuntai Mountain 画云台山记

Gu Kaizhi is erudite and good at poetry, calligraphy, and especially painting. He is good at human images, Buddha images, animals, landscapes, etc. Gu Kaizhi, Cao Buxing 曹不兴, Lu Tanwei 陆探微, and Zhang Sengyao 张僧繇 were collectively called the “Four Great Masters of the Six Dynasties”. Gu Kaizhi’s paintings are intended to be vivid, and his arguments of “moving from imagination to subtlety” and “writing spirit with shape” have laid the foundation for the development of traditional Chinese painting.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Features of works

Gu Kaizhi is good at poetry and prose, especially in painting. He is good at portraits, historical figures, Taoism, animals, landscapes, and other subjects. The painting of figures advocates vividness. Pay attention to the description of physiological details and the expression of characters. Be good at using environmental descriptions to express the interest and demeanor of characters. The lines of his clothes are tight and smooth.

Gu Kaizhi has also made outstanding achievements in painting theory. Today, there are three painting theories, namely, “Praise of Victory in the Wei and Jin Dynasties 《魏晋胜流画赞》”, “On Painting 《论画》” and “A Record of Painting Yuntai Mountain 《画云台山记》”. He put forward the ideas of telepathy, keeping the spirit by shape, and moving from one thought to another, and advocated that painting should show the mental state and character characteristics of the characters, and attach importance to the experience and observation of the objects. Gu Kaizhi’s painting and his theory laid the foundation for the development of traditional Chinese painting.

Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之
Zhuo Qin Painting 斫琴图

Gu Kaizhi’s works, according to the records of people in the Tang and Song Dynasties, in addition to some political portraits of celebrities, also painted some Buddhist images, which was a popular theme at that time. In addition, there are birds and animals, which are related to paintings in the Han Dynasty. He also drew some images of immortals, because that was also a popular belief at that time.

The most noteworthy thing is that he painted many portraits of famous people. This changed the ethos of the Han Dynasty, which was dominated by the promotion of ethics, and reflected the new method of observing characters and the new purpose of artistic expression, that is, to leave ethics and politics and attach importance to the speech and talent of characters. This shows the expansion of the vision of painting art; Thus, it puts forward new requirements for figure painting – to show people’s character and spiritual characteristics.

The Painting of Women’s History 《女史箴图》

“Nvshi 女史” refers to women in the court, while “Zhen 箴” means exhortation. At the beginning of the Jin Dynasty, Empress Jia was autocratic, jealous, dishonest, and dissolute. Zhang Hua 张华, a scholar, wrote the Women’s History Proverbs 《女史箴》 based on the deeds of the past generations, which was regarded as a famous article of “bitter words and solemn words to warn the world” that time. Gu Kaizhi, a talented painter, drew this famous article section by section and wrote the proverbs on the side of the picture, which led to the birth of the world-famous masterpiece “The Proverbs of Women’s History” in Chinese history.

Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之
The Painting of Women’s History 《女史箴图》

There are two silk editions of the “Women’s History Proverbs”, one of which is in the Palace Museum. Experts believe that it is a copy of the Southern Song Dynasty 南宋, which is less artistic; The other book is more artistic, which can better reflect Gu Kaizhi’s painting style and the original appearance of “Women’s History Proverbs”. Experts think it may be a copy of the Tang Dynasty 唐朝. It was originally collected by the Qing Palace. Unfortunately, the country was poor and weak and the national treasures suffered. This copy is kept in the British Museum, London, England.

The Painting of Luoshen 《洛神赋图》

One of the ten famous paintings handed down from generation to generation in China. The original painting of Luoshen Fu, painted by Gu Kaizhi, a famous painter in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, is a silk copy with a color design, measuring 27.1 cm vertically and 572.8 cm horizontally. This painting is based on Cao Zhi 曹植‘s famous “Luoshen Fu《洛神赋》” and is a masterpiece handed down by Gu Kaizhi.

Gu Kaizhi 顾恺之
The Painting of Luoshen 《洛神赋图》

The whole volume is divided into three parts. It depicts the sincere and pure love story between Cao Zhi and Luo Shen in a detailed way. This scroll is indeed one of the treasures of Chinese classical painting in terms of content, artistic structure, figure formation, environmental description, and the form of pen and ink expression.

Video: Master of Painting–Gu Kaizhi

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