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The Masterpiece: A Thousand Peaks and Myriad Ravines by Gong Xian (ca. 1617-1689)

Brinker, Helmut

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Abstract

The superlative "masterpiece" is entangled in an inflationary linguistic jumble and has fallen victim to modernist art theoretical debates. Thus we do not attempt here any further clarification; nor do we venture on testing the usefulness of the term's application on Chinese art or intend to trace equivalents of the term in ancient art theoretical writings of China. Nevertheless, from earliest times, Chinese art critics were concerned with standards of excellence, with classification and appreciation; connoisseurship had always been recognized as a discriminating art in itself with highly ambitious requirements. In the ancient writings superiority and inferiority of painters and paintings are usually dealt with in relative, not in absolute judgements. Calling something a masterpiece is to elevate a work to absolute superiority and to canonize it as the ultimate non plus ultra. Designating a work of art as a masterpiece raises it to the summit of a supreme ideal of art. Masterpieces of art have been and always shall be the cultural heritage of mankind; they are common cultural property of whole nations and as such are able to generate national pride and identity. In modern Japan masterpieces are venerated as "National Treasures," as "Important Cultural Property," as "Important Art Objects," and in China they are registered in similar classifications as the nation's cultural heritage.

Item Type: Article
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2005 08:31
Date: 2003
Faculties / Institutes: Philosophische Fakultät > Institut für Kunstgeschichte Ostasiens
Subjects: 750 Painting and paintings
Controlled Keywords: Tuschmalerei, Meisterwerk
Uncontrolled Keywords: Chinese Painting , masterpiece
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