Tower of Rising Clouds

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Tower of Rising Clouds (雲起樓圖)

Attributed to Mi Fu (米芾, 1051-1107), Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Hanging scroll, ink on silk, 150.0 x 78.8 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

       This unsigned scroll was traditionally attributed to the Northern Song dynasty artist Mi Fu. While no longer accepted as a genuine work by his hand, it remains the earliest of the extant large paintings done in the widely imitated style associated with his name. In the Mi style, landscape forms are defined by a distinctive use of layered washes and precisely applied horizontal dots, instead of the usual outlines and texture strokes, to create a subtle illusion of varying depths and densities.

       The short quotation from Confucius inscribed at the top of the painting was ostensibly written by Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty (reigned 1100–25), in whose court Mi Fu once served: "[Before] heaven sends down the seasonal rains, mountains and rivers put forth clouds." The passage metaphorically defines the relationship between the benevolent rule of a sage king and the prior appearance of wise ministers to advise him. The quotation therefore adds a philosophical dimension to the work and was aptly selected both to describe the misty landscape of the painting and to laud Mi Fu as a valued servant of the throne.

       The painting was also greatly admired by an illustrious previous owner, the Ming dynasty painter, calligrapher and art historian Dong Qichang (董其昌, 1555-1636), who provided a title calligraphy at the top and colophons on either side.

Mi Fu: Tower of Rising Clouds