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The Southern Journey
1505

Tang Yin , (Chinese, 1470-1523)
Ming dynasty

Ink on paper
H: 24.3 W: 89.3 cm
China

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Renowned as a painter, poet and calligrapher, Tang Yin was one of the greatest artists of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Despite scandal and disappointment in his official career, he was befriended by both the scholarly and monied elite of his native Suzhou and through their patronage made a successful living by his art.

This painting is one section of a long handscroll created by a group of friends in the spring of 1505 for Yang Jijing (ca. 1477–after 1530), a master performer of ancient music on the qin (zither or lute). In addition to the painting and two poems by Tang Yin, the scroll contains written contributions by ten other men, most of whom were well-established figures in the city of Suzhou, a major cultural center located near Lake Tai in Jiangsu Province. The scroll begins at right with a frontispiece written in seal script by the calligrapher Wu Yi (1472–1519), who supplied a title for the work, Journey to the South (or Journeying South). The scroll was probably intended both as a farewell gift and as a kind of letter of introduction for Yang Jijing on the occasion of his departure from Suzhou for the southern imperial capital at Nanjing, where he was unknown to society but hoped to secure an offical appointment. At the right, the young musician is seen departing mounted on a donkey and followed by a servant bearing a rolled umbrella over one shoulder and his master's wrapped qin slung across his back.

Tang's two poems beside the painting may be translated:

On the river, springtime breezes blow the tender elms,
I clasp my lute and see you off, trailing long robes.
If someone you encounter should appreciate your music,
Cut some reeds where you are and make yourself a hut.

Xi Kang long ago played the Melody of Guangling.
Silent a thousand years, its tonalities are lost.
Today I've traveled to this place to see you off,
That we may seek for its notes from the handbook.

Translation by Stephen D. Allee