The Tangchao minghua lu 唐朝名畫錄 "On famous paintings of the Tang period", also called Tangxian minghua lu 唐賢名畫錄 "On famous paintings by worthies of the Tang", is a critique on early Tang period 唐 (618-907) paintings written Zhu Jingxuan 朱景玄. He came from Wujun 吳郡 (modern Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu) and was an academician (xueshi 學士) in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院. The book Tushu jianwen zhi 圖畫見聞志 calls him Zhu Jingzhen 朱景真. The imperial bibliography in the official dynastic history Xintangshu 新唐書 calls his book Tang huaduan 唐畫斷 "Judgments on Tang painters", in the encyclopedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 and the descriptive bibliography Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 it is called Huaduan 畫斷 "Judgments on painters" or Tangchao huaduan 唐朝畫斷 "Judgments on Tang period painters". Zhu Jingxuan himself gives in his preface the book the short title of Hualu 畫錄 "On painters" or "On paintings".
Zhu Jingxuan was of the opinion that although there were a lot of treatises on ancient paintings, those older than from the Sui 隋 (581-618) or the Liang period 梁 (502-557) were not quite reliable. Even Li Sizhen's 李嗣真 Xu huapin lu 續畫品錄 from the early Tang period, he said, did not provide a lot of information on early painters, and for many persons, not even their qualities were mentioned. He therefore decided to write a book in which only paintings were mentioned that he had inspected by himself. His guideline was Zhang Huaiguan's 張懷瓘 book Shuduan 書斷, a critique on calligraphy, for which reason the Tangchao minghua lu is also called Huaduan. The short book includes a description of the artistic skills of more than 120 painters, rated according to four categories, namely "divine" (shen 神), "extraordinary" (miao 妙), "professional" (neng 能), and "mediocre" (yi 逸). The first three classes are divided into three sub-classes each. The objects of painting were classified in four different grades of difficulty, beginning with portraits of persons, a grade followed by animals, landscape, and finally buildings and plants. Contemporary painters, Zhu Jingxuan lamented, made themselves a name by mastering only one of these four different areas, while real experts like Wu Daozi 吳道子 professed in all categories. Wu Daozi was therefore rated as the best of all painted (1A), only followed by Zhou Fang 周昉 (1B). Yan Liben 閻立本 and six other persons belonged to the class 1C. The lowest class only includes three persons, but there are three Tang princes mentioned in the preface, and the painters whom Li Sizhen mentioned in his book Xu huapin lu. The system of three or four categories of painters was already to be found in the books of Li Sizhen and Zhang Huaiguan and was so by Zhu Jingxuan perpetuated to become the standard system to rank the quality of traditional Chinese paintings.
The Tangchao minghua lu is included in the reprint series Wangshi shuhua yuan 王氏書畫苑, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原, Meishu congshu 美術叢書, Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Huapin congshu 畫品叢書. In 1985 Wen Zhaotong 溫肇桐 published a commented edition in the Sichuan meishu press 四川美術出版社.
Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1797. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.