A Sketch of Rare Birds

Zhao Ji

Series: The Royal Collection of Imperial China

Detail of the handscroll

Artist: Zhao Ji
Period: Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127)
Medium: Handscroll
Dimensions: 404 × 22 cm
Price: $399.95
ISBN: 978-1-4878-0146-5
(Collected by the Long Museum, Shanghai)


Ink and wash on paper; length 27.5 cm, width 521.5 cm

Emperor Huizong was a model bird and flower painter, his strokes simple yet elegant. Whether birds or flowers, his subjects are alike not only in appearance, but also spirit. “A good resemblance in appearance requires the artist to retain the spirit of the subject, and a good resemblance in spirit requires the artist to reflect on the nature of the subject.”

By presenting his subjects’ precise form and lively spirit Zhao Ji strove to produce sketches that are true to life and to develop resemblance in spirit through resemblance in form.

In his paintings, birds are outlined with light ink, then dark ink is used to add detail to the feathers on the head and tail. By painting in multiple layers, the fluffiness, thickness, and gorgeous colors of the bird’s feathers are displayed. Similar techniques are applied in painting leaves to produce a lifelike, vivid effect.


Zhao Ji (1082–1135), or Emperor Huizong, was the eighth emperor of the Song Dynasty. During his reign, he gathered a vast collection of antiques, calligraphies, and paintings, and sought out master painters to expand the imperial painting house, where the best painters from all over China shared their best works. He also arranged for a group of scholars to compile books including the Xuanhe Notes on Calligraphy and the Xuanhe Illustrations on Antiques. Zhao was a skilled calligrapher and painter. He invented the “slender gold” style of calligraphy and was skilled at painting flowers and birds. He focused on sketching, and was renowned for his lifelike drawings.