Zhao Mengfu was a court painter under the Yuan Dynasty, and is today regarded as one of the greatest painters of his time.
A descendant of the Song Dynasty imperial family, Zhao was nevertheless accepted into the Yuan Dynasty court, as a court painter, in 1287. He married Guan Daosheng in 1289, who went on to become a notable painter in her own right. Zhao had one son and four daughters from an earlier marriage; he and Guan Daosheng had two more sons and two more daughters.
Following the death of Kubilai Khan in 1294, Zhao returned to his childhood home in Wuxing, Huzhou, in Zhejiang province, spending several years there idly. He returned to government service in 1300, serving as the head of Confucian schools in the Zhejiang-Jiangsu region.
One of his most famous paintings, held today in the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian, and depicting a sheep and a goat, has been described as alluding to his political identity and situation under the foreign Mongol dynasty. They do this by alluding to the Han Dynasty figures Su Wu and Li Ling, one of whom served under the barbarian Xiongnu rulers, and one of whom refused to do so and instead became a shepherd.
- Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 359-363.
- "Sheep and Goat," Freer-Sackler Galleries of Art. F1931.4.