Bodhidharma Crossing the Yangtze on a ReedArtist(s)JapaneseArtist NationalityJapanese (culture or style)Object Creation Date1935Medium & Supporthanging scroll, ink on silkDimensions
56 5/16 in. x 23 3/8 in. ( 143 cm x 59.4 cm )Credit LineGift of Stephen H. and Patricia O. Spurr from the Henry Jewett Greene CollectionLabel copy
According to traditional accounts, Bodhidharma was an Indian prince and meditation master who arrived in China in the late fifth century. With the passing of centuries, he came to be regarded as the founder of the Chan (Zen) tradition. Untold numbers of Zen monks in both China and Japan painted his image over and over again, in an act that was both homage to a great forebear and a form of meditative practice.
Images of Bodhidharma generally focus on two events in his career. The first, shown here, is his dramatic crossing of the great Yangzi River. In haste, not waiting for a ferry, he plucked a single reed from the riverbank, and rode it across the waves. Artists delighted in the contrast between Bodhidharma’s massive body and the slender reed. Bodhidharma is also often shown seated in meditation, a reference to a period when he spent nine years meditating in a cave.
The signature on this painting tells us that this work was “reverently painted” by a lay practitioner of Zen, someone who was neither a monk nor a professional artist. The artist is otherwise unknown.
Arts of Zen, Spring 2003
M. Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian ArtPrimary Object Classification Painting Primary Object Typefigure paintingCollection AreaAsianRights
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