The Compelling Image will delight the art lover who does not yet realize that Chinese painting can be as original and moving as El Greco or Cezanne With a graceful authority, James Cahill explores the radiant painting of that tumultuous era when the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the Manchu conquest of China dramatically changed the lives and thinking of artists and intellectualsThe brilliant masters of the seventeenth century were reconsidering their artistic relationship to nature and to the painting of earlier times, while European pictorial arts introduced by Jesuit missionaries were profoundly influencing Chinese techniques The reader viewer is presented with a series of crucial distinctions of style and approach in a richly illustrated book that illuminates the whole character of Chinese painting Cahill begins with a relatively neglected artist, Chang Hung, who moved traditional forms ever closer to literal descriptions of nature, in contrast with the theorist painter Tung Ch i ch ang, who turned the same traditional forms into powerful abstractions A chapter focused on Wu Pin offers new and controversial ideas about the impact of European art, as well as a related phenomenon revival of the highly descriptive early Sung styles Looking especially at Ch en Hung shou, the greatest of the late Ming figure painters, Cahill examines a curious mixing of real people and conventionally rendered surroundings in portrait art of the period He analyzes the expressionist experiments of the masters known as Individualists, and distinguishes these artists from the Orthodox school, concluding with a bold reassessment of the most eloquent of later Chinese painters, Tao chi Overillustrations, including twelve color plates, are drawn from collections in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China This is a book for anyone interested in China, its past, and its art, and for the enthusiast who wishes to broaden the horizons of enjoyment by exposure to a most engaging writer on an exquisite era In the lifetime of the French King Louis XIV, Chinese painting reached its apogee Well over two centuries before the appearance of European modernism, Chinese landscape painters challenged the limits of their ancient pictorial tradition, pursuing degrees of abstraction and naturalism that represented as decisive a break with the past as any innovation that was to occur in late 19th century European art In the early 1700s, all of this came to an end, once and for all The legacy of this period In the lifetime of the French King Louis XIV, Chinese painting reached its apogee Well over two centuries before the appearance of European modernism, Chinese landscape painters challenged the limits of their ancient pictorial tradition, pursuing degrees of abstraction and naturalism that represented as decisive a break with the past as any innovation that was to occur in late 19th century European art In the early 1700s, all of this came to an end, once and for all The legacy of this period of innovation, in the body of paintings produced in the late Ming and very early Qing Dynasties, represents some of the strangest, most disorienting, beautiful and oddly familiar works that have come down to us from that or from any other century.Their odd familiarity, according to Cahill s most intriguing and powerful argument, arises from their subtle incorporation of compositional techniques absorbed from Western models, very likely the mediocre oil paintings and secular engravings brought to China by the Jesuits from the late 17th century The disquiet in the images arises from their use of these and other techniques to convey the irrationalities and turmoil of late Ming decline and collapse in the wake of foreign invasion By a remarkable irony, the commonplace art and illustrations of early modern Europe melded with venerable Chinese traditions of painting to engender works that, to our eyes, have all the modernity of early Impressionism In a further irony, the influence upon the latter by Asian, and primarily Japanese, art represents the circling back to Europe in the late 19th century of techniques and styles that grew out of Europe s own earlier contact with Asia.Beginning with a study of two paintings by two contemporary artists of the mid 17th century, Cahill escorts the reader into what must be for many the deeply unfamiliar work of Chinese landscape painting, demonstrating through close analysis how the slightest variations in formal style are full of meaning Almost as if recreating the cosmological order instilled in the great landscapes of the early Song Dynasty, Cahill proceeds from the very small to the world of momentous political and social transformations as if moving from the miniscule figures in such paintings to the tops of the massive bluffs that tower above them Cahill never shies from making these connections The reader who is following along will feel her powers of discernment magnified as Cahill unpacks the forms of each composition and ties these together with the technical choices available to the artist and how he responded to the limits and opportunities provided to him by his heritage, his social context, and by the passing historical moment Cahill s book is a masterpiece, a tour de force of art history that can hold its own beside accomplished works in other fields of humanist research The writing is lucid and rich, and the structure of the analysis draws the reader along with the power of a fictional narrative We are introduced to paintings that appear nondescript, we learn how to read them, and learn that they are anything but From there we are off on a tour of images produced by several generations of painters for whom the experience of European contact and Ming collapse were catalysts for one of the greatest periods of painterly accomplishment in Chinese art Artistic innovation is the driver that propels the story forward, in a contest between a tradition pulling painting towards orthodox formalism, and an impulse to experimentation which pushes it towards abstraction and naturalism We are able to share the excitement of bold accomplishments all along We also regret the failure of those innovations that dazzle us today, but had no sequel in their own time And finally, in the key of tragedy, we come to the end of the period, at which point the powers of tradition win out over novelty, and Chinese painting sinks into a decadence from which it is only now recovering