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This painting, attributed to Li Zhaodao (birth and death years unknown) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), fits into the category of landscape painting in traditional Chinese paintings, while it should be categorized as history painting if put in western art. This work depicts Emperor Xuanzong’s (685-762) hasty escape from the capital to the remote southeast of China to avoid the An-Shi Rebellion (755-763), launched by An Lushan and Shi Siming to topple the central Tang regime. In order to whitewash the embarrassing flight, the painter deliberately embellished the title and the expression of the painting, to make it look like nothing but a sightseeing trip of the emperor.

On a tortuous trail running through towering mountains, a group of travelers are moving forward leisurely on horseback. Though small in size, the riders and horses were illustrated in great detail, with vivid and refined faces, postures and garments, which fits the description of critiques on Li’s paintings in official records that “though the figures and horses are as small as beans, their brows and beards are clearly illustrated. ” This is the reason why this painting has been attributed to Li. The man in red robe on a black horse featuring three strands of horsehair is believed to be Emperor Xuanzong himself, as the law of the Tang Court stipulated that the color red and horses with three strands of horsehair were reserved exclusively to emperors.

Details

  • Title: Emperor Xuanzong's Flight to Shu
  • Creator: Li Zhaodao
  • Date: ca. 907
  • Provenance: National Palace Museum
  • Physical format: painting, 55.9h x 81w cm
  • Medium: colors on silk
  • Dynastic period: Tang Dynasty
  • Artist's birth and death date: active early 8th century

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