Legends are told of Zhang Sengyao, a painter eminent for his lifelike paintings.
Zhang Sengyao was born during the Southern Liang Dynasty, and since he was a young boy, he had an extraordinary talent in the arts. His incredible paintings caught the attention of the other villagers, and many gathered to watch him paint.
One day, he began painting on a wall in the village. Villagers gathered and watched the development of the painting for days, enchanted by each stroke. He spent days painting a life-sized dragon, only to never fully finish the painting, which disappointed the villagers. They asked the young painter why he never drew the dragon’s eyes, to which he responded, “If I did draw the eyes, the dragon would come to life.”
The villagers left angered and in disbelief of Zhang’s claims. However, the word of his talent still spread throughout the empire, eventually catching the attention of the Emperor.
“Their eyes are their spirits”
The Emperor commissioned Zhang to paint four dragons on the wall of a temple. Knowing he could not decline, he began to work on his masterpiece. The people gathered to watch as he painted four magnificent dragons, but by the time he had finished, the people yet again noticed the dragons’ missing pupils. Zhang tried to explain to the people why he could not draw their eyes, explaining that their eyes are their spirits, and once drawn will give them a life force. No one believed him, including the Emperor.
Unable to refuse the Emperor, with four strokes, he dotted the eyes of two of the dragons. With a bolt of lightning striking down on the wall, the two dragons flew out and into the sky leaving the other two spirit-less dragons as paintings on the wall.
Through the centuries, 画龙点睛 (“Paint the dragon, dot the eyes”) has become a saying in the Chinese language, describing the importance of the final touch — bringing perfection to a masterpiece.