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Bodhidharma, from triptych of Three Zen Masters: Linji, Bodhidharma and Deshan

Accession Number

Bodhidharma, from triptych of Three Zen Masters: Linji, Bodhidharma and Deshan

Yiran Xingrong (J. Itsunen)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
hanging scroll, ink and light color on paper

49 in x 15 ⅝ in (124.46 cm x 39.69 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase, Acquisition Fund

Label copy
In this set of three hanging scrolls (1975/2.181, 182, 183), three great Zen patriarchs are portrayed in the lighthearted manner that was characteristic of paintings produced for the Ôbaku Zen sect. Bodhidharma, the Indian monk credited with introducing Zen to China in the fifth century, is given the place of honor in the center (1975/2.182). His limbs are completely concealed by his red robe, and his frontal pose is taken almost directly from a well-established type that depicts his famous nine-year-long meditation. Here, however, the asymmetry and the sense of movement in the brushwork itself create the impression that Bodhidharma has just pulled his robes tighter about him to ward off a chill; and he looks directly out at us, rather than seeming lost in his own thoughts. Seated to his left is Linji (d. 866) (UMMA 1975/2.183), a famous Tang dynasty master from whom many of the most powerful Zen monasteries in China and Japan claimed descent. At Bodhidharma’s right sits Linji’s contemporary, Deshan (781–867) (1975/2.181), who was renowned for using few words and for his readiness to strike his students with his staff. (“If you are wrong, 30 blows! … if you are right, 30 blows!”) Again the artist has tampered with the standard images: with their slumped shoulders and downcast gazes, both Linji and Deshan—fierce personalities by all accounts—are recast as mild-mannered senior monks. This casual treatment of revered figures is seen also in the work of the Chinese painter Chen Xian, a renowned portrait artist whose work was very influential in establishing the Ôbaku style in China. Although several other versions of this trio are extant, the Museum’s triptych is widely recognized as one of the finest works of Ôbaku art outside of Japan.
Arts of Zen, February 15-June 15, 2003
M.Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
hanging scroll

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

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Zen masters

4 Related Resources

(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Ink and Realisms
(Part of: Artist Associations and Art Movements)
Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)

& Author Notes

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On display