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Han Gan

China • 720−780

Biography and information

Han Gan belongs to those ancient Chinese artists, whose biographies have colored legends and anecdotes. On it was kept quite a lot of references, in varying degrees, reflecting the figure of a real Han Gan, but there is no one absolutely reliable piece.


According to who lived in the IX century authors of treatises on painting, Zhang YANYUAN Zhu and Sinuany, as well as later Chinese scholar, Han Gan was the capital from a poor family, in his youth worked as a servant in a small tavern, where he was noticed by the famous poet and painter Wang Wei, discerned in him a talent. In the future, Wang Wei took the young man under his wing, paid for his education, and entered the circle of his friends. He was then presented to the Emperor Swanstone (712-756), who, as legend has it, demanded that Han Gan painted horses in the manner of the best masters of the court, Chen Hong. As written by Zhu Cincuan: "Amazed by the diversity of the submitted works with the paintings of Chen Hong, he inquired what was the cause. Han gang said, “Your servant had their own originals, all of them horses in the stable, Your Majesty.” The Emperor came in the rapture."

This case became the reason of visit of the Emperor to the artist and further patronage. However, this was no surprise – a horse, especially a hardy, low-growing breed from Central Asia has always been a passion of the Tang Imperial house. However, the image of this animal different Tang emperors were perceived differently. At the dawn of this dynasty, in tough times, when wars were fought for the unification of China, the horse was fighting a friend who warrior shared all hardships of the military. This is the meaning invested in the image of the six horses on the famous reliefs of the mausoleum of Emperor Taizong (626 – 649). A century later, when Tanska Empire basked in prosperity, the Emperor Swanston replenish their stables a herd of more than forty thousand horses, and received tribute from the Western region. These horses, who had never seen the battlefields, were trained to dance before the Son of Heaven. Ceasing to be men, they finally caught up in his status with the concubines of the Imperial harem. And artists Chen Hong and Han Gan was given the Imperial order to draw portraits of favorite horses.


It is interesting that, judging by the come down from that time the works of these horse portraits were not as realistic as pictures of horses in ranyanwu an era when ruled by an Emperor ticzon. Han Gan was creating portraits of horses in the fashion that arose during the reign of Swanstone. For this fashion was characterized by the image of a ruddy, rather stout ladies with fat cheeks and rounded forms of the body. The female type dominated in sculpture and painting of this period. Horses, Han Gan also have unnatural rounded shape, and the researchers see here a direct stylistic Parallels with the fashion for images of the Tang ladies. Probably, for this reason, the famous poet and writer Du Fu criticized Han Gan that he "draws only horse flesh, but the bones". However, Zhang YANYUAN (IX century), the author of the treatise "Notes on famous masters of different eras" admired Han Ghanem, and called him "the greatest artist of all time, depicting horses", claiming that he was able to capture the spirit of the horse.

The truth of the words of Zhang YANYUAN can be understood by looking at figure Han Gan "Lightning in the night". This poetic name was given to one of the favorite steeds of the Emperor Swanstone. Despite the fact that Zhu Cincuan writes about the Central Asian horses ("the Suit they were unusual, and the bizarre appearance; they had swollen sides and thick hooves. When they journeyed on a dangerous road, the ride was quiet, as in the palanquin"), a horse figure Han Gan differs from naturalistic images of horses from Central Asia - he has short, very thin legs and a rounded body. He has a hoof, violently trying to free himself, and cocked his head, laughs. However, the struggle is hopeless – horse tied to a high pole. The horse turns his exhausted gaze to the viewer, as if appealing for compassion. He is humanized by the artist, in his appearance contains an allusion to the tragic side of court life.


Today, Han Gan with different degree of confidence is attributed to several horse images. But the artist was much wider. According to ancient sources, he worked on the portrait (though not as good as Zhou Fan – this is a historical anecdote, contained in the treatise Th Joshua), paintings of Buddhist temples, images of the Bodhisattvas, the great monks, and demons. Buddhist murals perished with the temples in the course of restrictions held in the year 845 in respect of Buddhism, and of 52 of his works are stored in the song dynasty the Imperial collection at the end of the XII century, none survived to our days.

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