Soie, Encre, Couleurs - Pigments
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Perched alone on a rock, the falcon proudly dominates the waves. The contrast between the precise rendering of the feathers and the stylised movement of the waves heightens the opposition between the bird’s immobile pose and the choppy water. A sense of power emanates from the whole painting.
In ancient China, birds of prey were often generically called eagles, ying. Paintings showing a lone bird of prey on an outcrop are therefore traditionally called yingxiong duli, an expression suggesting that this exceptional creature has no equal on earth.
While birds of prey appeared in Chinese painting as early as the 4th century, the depiction of a solitary eagle posting majestically on high was probably codified during the reign of the emperor Huizong (1101-1125). It is probably impossible today to attribute a painting executed in this brushwork style to the famous “emperor-painter”, copies and literary sources attest to the existence of these images, however. In these works, the eagle’s head is often crowned with the imperial seal and the word yubi, “executed by the imperial brush”. These images reflecting the emperor’s power were part of a much wider cultural policy.
The Cernuschi Museum painting was part of this tradition. Although its margins were trimmed at some point, the painting still has the visible mark of an imperial seal from the Xuanhe period (1119-1125) and the word yubi. It is hard to date with precision on the basis of these fragmentary elements; however, the stylistic similarities between this painting and a work in the National Palace Museum in Taipei indicate that it was executed in the 14th century.