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Yuan dynasty Liu Guandao (fl. 13th c.)

Kublai Khan Hunting

Khubilai Khan Hunting

  • Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk 
  • 182.9 x 104.1 cm

Liu Guandao, who went by the style name Zhongxian, was a native of Zhongshan (modern-day Dingxian, Hebei) and a court painter of the early Yuan who was exceptional skilled in realism. In 1279, he stood out for his portrait of Emperor Yuzong and was awarded with the post "Commissioner of the Imperial Wardrobe Bureau." He was praised as a master of many painting subjects in "Tuhuibaojian" (Treasured Mirror of Paintings).

Due to the acceptance and promotion of painting and calligraphy under Kublai Khan, scholar-painters and artisans were attached to many organizations at court, such as the Han-lin and Historiography  Academy as well as the Imperial Manufactories Commission . The Imperial Wardrobe Bureau to which Liu Guandao was attached was a department in the latter.

This painting is dated to 1280, a year after his appointment as Commissioner of the Imperial Wardrobe Bureau. The content describes a barren scene of loess dotted with figures and a few hills. Kublai Khan and his empress  along with attendants  are shown in a hunting scene on the fringe of the Gobi desert. The figure towards the center wearing a red coat with a white collar and riding a black steed is most likely Khublai himself. He and his empress are surrounded by attendants, some of whom have much darker skin and prominent facial features that indicate that they were not native Chinese. The Yuan dynasty was a golden age of ethnic groups coexisting together in China, and this painting offers a rare glimpse of this aspect.

Of the three figures in the lower left, a cheetah  is shown sitting behind one of the riders with its mouth strapped shut. On the arms of two other figures stand a white falcon and a hawk , which, along with the dog , were used for hunting. Strapped behind one of the riders is also game  that has been caught so far. Two more wild geese are shown flying high in the sky above as the rider to the left stretches his bow  and takes aim. In a split second, the intense concentration and suspense of the scene will be shattered by the release of the arrow. The famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo mentioned that Kublai's bodyguards numbered 12,000 and were called "cossacks." Going out to the hunt, they were said to have extended as far as the eye could see. Although the scene here is not nearly as grand, the details of this hunt have been done in a very fine and naturalistic manner befitting the imperial nature of a sinified Mongol ruler.


Hanlin and Historiography Academy

The Hanlin and Historiography Academy is the name of an agency at court; its origins can be traced back to the Kaiyuan era (713-741) of the Tang dynasty, when it was simply known as the Academy. Its name and function also varied over the centuries. For example, in the Song dynasty it was known as the Hanlin Academy and in the Yuan dynasty as the Hanlin and Historiography Academy. In the Ming dynasty, the functions of editing histories, writings, and library matters were consolidated into the Hanlin Academy. The Qing dynasty followed suit and included imperial diaries and other documents of ritual. The figure in charge of the Academy was usually a major official.

Imperial Manufactories Commission

This was the agency in the Yuan dynasty devoted to managing artisans including those at court. Craftsmen were divided into design and production groups in the categories of wardrobe, vessels, architecture and construction, and Buddhist images.

Kublai Khan and his empress

Kublai Khan and his empress


White falcon and a hawk

white falcon and a hawk


Wild geese

wild geese