, Hongzhi Period (1488-1505), c. 1500
Shen Zhou, Chinese
Ink on paper
11 feet 3 inches x 3 feet 3 3/4 inches (342.9 x 101 cm)
Mount: 14 feet 4 1/2 inches x 4 feet 5 inches (438.2 x 134.6 cm)
Gift of Alice Boney, 1975
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About This Painting
Shen Zhou (shen-joe), a famous literati painter
of the Ming
dynasty (1368–1644), created this grand landscape. Born to an
aristocratic family, Shen Zhou refused to work as a civil official
and instead pursued his passion for painting, calligraphy
, and poetry. His style is distinctively simple, letting a few delicate brushstrokes describe shapes, textures, and volume.
Chinese hanging scroll landscapes, like this one, are meant to be
viewed from the bottom to the top. In the foreground, a scholar
rows a boat and converses with another scholar in a boat across the
reeds. A young attendant sits behind him, perhaps preparing tea.
The leafless trees on the left draw the viewer's eyes to the middle
ground, where the river narrows to a stream. In the thatched-roof
cottage on the right, a third scholar sits at a window, contemplating
The background begins with the mist in the valley behind the
pine trees, whose straight trunks lead the viewer's eyes to the rocky
outcrops on the mountaintops. The fullness of the mountains
balances the emptiness of the river above the conversing scholars.
The placement of objects, the succession of trees and rocks in front
of the mountains, and the narrowing of the stream suggest depth.
Shen Zhou, a highly trained poet and calligrapher
, has written
one of his poems in the upper right: "Across the great lake I see the
two old men. Their disheveled sidelocks brave the frost and wind. Their fishing poles lie neglected; books alone they hold dear in this
world." Is it Shen Zhou who sits in the cottage admiring the view?
Three Basic Forms of Chinese Paintings
Chinese paintings were often done in ink and/or watercolor on
paper or silk, then mounted on silk as a hanging scroll, a handscroll, or leaves in an album.
A hanging scroll is meant to be hung
on the wall, suspended from a silk string. Often, the painting is
mounted on a patterned silk support that complements the composition
and colors. When not hanging, it is rolled from the bottom
to the top, tied with string, and stored safely in a box. One
views a hanging scroll by beginning at the bottom, moving one's
eyes slowly toward the top.
A handscroll is designed to be viewed by only one or two people
at a time, and is never seen all at once. It is unrolled by pulling the
end of the scroll to the right with the right hand, while holding
the rest of the scroll with the left hand. The painting on the scroll
is often sequential and is meant to be viewed from right to left, the
same way Chinese writing is read. Though a handscroll may be as
long as twenty feet, when viewed properly, only one arm’s length
of the picture is visible at a time.
An album leaf painting is small and made to fit in an album or
book-like covering. Albums can be composed of square, rectangular,
or fan-shaped paintings. Collections such as these can be assembled
by artists or collectors, and are usually organized according to a
specific artist, period, or subject matter.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: China
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.