Tang Yin (Bohu) - Ming Dynasty

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       Tang Yin (唐寅,1470-1524), better known by his courtesy name Tang Bohu (唐伯虎), was a Chinese scholar, painter, calligrapher, and poet of the Ming Dynasty whose life story has become a part of popular lore.

       Tang Yin is one of the most notable painters in the history of Chinese art. He is regarded as one of the painting elite - “the Four Masters of Ming” (明四家), which also includes Shen Zhou (沈周,1427-1509), Wen Zhengming (文徵明, 1470-1559) and Qiu Ying (仇英, ca.1495-1552). Tang is also a talented poet. Together with his contemporaries Wen Zhengming (文徵明, 1470–1559), Zhu Yunming (祝允明, 1460-1526), and Xu Zhenqing (徐禎卿, 1479-1511), known as the “Four Literary Masters of the Wuzhong Region (in today's Suzhou)” (吳中四大才子) or “Four Literary Masters of Jiangnan (the region on the south of the Yangtze River)” (江南四大才子).

       Tang was a pupil of the great Shen Zhou, a friend of Wen Zhengming, and was aided by the latter’s father, Wen Lin. Tang came from a mercantile background and excelled in his studies. In 1498 Tang Yin came first in the provincial examinations in Nanjing, the second stage in the civil service examination. The following year he went to the capital to attend the national examinations. However, he and his friend Xu Jing (?-1507) were accused, perhaps unfairly, of bribing the servant of one of the chief examiners to give them the examination questions in advance. This deprived him of the security of a government sinecure and comfort for the cultivation of scholarly pursuits.

       Denied further official progress, he pursued a life of pleasure and earned a living by selling his paintings. That mode of living brought him into disrepute with a later generation of artist-critics (for example, Dong Qichang 董其昌) who felt that financial independence was vital to enable an artist to follow his own style and inspiration. While Tang is associated with paintings of feminine beauty, his paintings (especially landscapes) otherwise exhibit the same variety and expression of his peers and reveal a man of both artistic skill and profound insight.

       Tang Yin perfected an admirable hand in semi-cursive script (also known as running script). His poems touch on themes which people like Wen Zhengming or the older Shen Zhou would have never taken up. Tang seems compelled to deal with the base elements in man - envy, greed and venality. Tragic unfulfillment, driven by belief in the relentlessness of fate and the bitterness of the ultimate truth imbues his more thoughtful poems. Sometimes he is overwhelmed by tragic sorrow for the loss of childlike innocence; other times even love is fraught with ruin and unhappiness. Those poems which do manage to begin on an optimistic note often end on a note of regret.

Masterpieces by Tang Yin (view the entire calligraphy gallery)