A Scholar Riding on a SwordArtist(s)Kanô SchoolObject Creation Datecirca 1650-1700Medium & Supportink on paperDimensions
13 3/4 in x 9 9/16 in (34.92 cm x 24.29 cm);22 1/4 in x 28 1/4 in (56.52 cm x 71.75 cm)Credit LineMuseum purchase for the Paul Leroy Grigaut Memorial CollectionLabel copy
Buddhist teachings first arrived in China in the first century ce and from that point forward developed side by side with the two main streams of indigenous philosophy, Confucianism and Daoism. Relations between adherents of these schools of thought were often hostile, but during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279)—when Zen monks, Confucian scholars, and Daoist thinkers were all drawn from the educated gentry class—there was a period of warm mutual respect. Under the rubric of the “unity of the three creeds,” Daoist subjects found their way into Chinese Zen circles, whence they spread to Japan. This painting, which is no doubt based on an imported Chinese model, probably depicts Zhongli Quan (Shôriken in Japanese), one of the eight Daoist immortals. (The attributes of the eight immortals are quite fluid, which is why the identification of the figure is uncertain.) Zhongli is sometimes described as a warrior who had a magical sword that could bear him across the waters.
The painting bears a seal reading Motonobu, referring to Kanô Motonobu, one of the leading artists working in the Japanese capital city of Kyoto in the first half of the sixteenth century. The seal is obviously a later addition, but the painting may come from Motonobu’s workshop or a later follower. Motonobu was not a practitioner of Zen, but as official painter to the ruling Ashikaga warlords, he had access to the Chinese painting collections of Kyoto’s great Zen temples, an invaluable resource when he was called upon to do Zen subjects. Motonobu’s descendants continued to paint Zen themes for Japan’s military aristocrats for the next several centuries.
Arts of Zen, Spring 2003
M. Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian ArtPrimary Object ClassificationPaintingCollection AreaAsianRights
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