Qiu Ying was born around 1494 AD to a peasant family in Taicang and likely learned his craft under the painter Zhou Chen – a practitioner of the Wu School of painting – in the Suzhou region. Despite his humble origins Ying became associated with wealthy and influential art collectors such as Zhou Fenglai, Chen Guan and Xiang Yuanbian; his ability to copy paintings (today termed “forgery”) by earlier artists brought him much favor. In the process, he had the opportunity to copy and master the techniques of great artists in the Song and Yuan dynasties. As his “copying” skills matured, Qiu’s personal style gradually emerged. Soon enough he was producing original works – flowers, gardens, landscapes, architectural drawings – for his wealthy patrons.
His graceful, consummate work – he specialized in the gongbi brush technique – led him to be regarded as one of the “Four Masters of the Ming Dynasty.” Although the Wu School focused on ink washes and delicate colors, Ying also painted in the blue-green shan shui style (painting with mineral dyes). Ying’s use of the brush was meticulous and refined, his decorative painted scrolls orderly and well-proportioned, such as those of the 'Orchid Pavilion,' 'Jingu Garden,' and the 'Manyi Zhigong.' His work received the accolades of the Ming court literati, was highly prized, and hence was highly “copied.” (Indeed, his name was added to countless paintings done by other professional artists, making it difficult to definitively state which is his.) After Zhou Chen passed away, Qiu Ying stood alone for roughly two decades at the apex of Chinese civilization. Ying died around 1552.