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Bamboo under Spring Rain
Bamboo under Spring Rain, Tianshun Period (1457-64), c. 1460
Xia Chang, Chinese
Ink on paper; mounted as a handscroll
20 1/2 inches × 31 feet 7 15/16 inches (52 × 965 cm)
Purchased with the Joseph E. Temple Fund and the John T. Morris Fund, 1953
1953-51-1
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About This Painting

This painting of bamboo growing along a riverbank is one section of an enormous handscroll, over thirty feet long, made more than five hundred years ago in China. Only one section of the scroll is viewed at a time, as it is unrolled horizontally from right to left. The painter, Xia Chang (sha chung), was a member of the literati, a class of highly educated men who were also calligraphers and artists. Xia Chang is known primarily for his ink paintings of bamboo.

Xia used an unusual point of view for this painting—close up and very low, as if we, the viewers, were floating on the surface of the river like water bugs, watching the bamboo forest glide by. His elegant black brushstrokes dance across the paper, each one unique, becoming clusters of bamboo leaves. Blurry dots and thin, gray washes convey the softness of the mossy riverbank. He painted the angular rocks with a drier brush, giving them a rough texture. All these brushstrokes and tones contrast with the open space created by the white paper.

Bamboo represents values and qualities the literati admired in nature. It is supple and graceful, but also tough and unbreakable. Like a pine tree, it is an evergreen, which means it thrives in the winter. In Chinese, the word for "node" (a bump on a branch) or "joining point" sounds just like the word for "integrity," and bamboo has many nodes. Paintings of bamboo require similar skills, tools, and materials as calligraphy: brush, ink, and water. For centuries, only talented literati highly trained in calligraphy were considered worthy of making black ink paintings of bamboo.

This object is included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across Time and Cultures, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by the Comcast Foundation, The Delphi Project Foundation, and Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company.

 

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