Bamboo and Rocks
Attributed to Tan Zhirui
Chinese (active late 13th to early 14th century)
Yuan dynasty (1279–1368)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
39 1/2 x 14 15/16 in. (100.3 x 38 cm)
Currently On View
This delicate ink painting of bamboo and rocks, a recurrent motif in Chinese painting, has recently been attributed to the Yuan-dynasty (1279–1368) painter Tan Zhirui. The elegantly inscribed poem was added by the Buddhist priest Yishan Yining (1247–1317). One branch of the Chan (Zen) ink-painting tradition in China celebrated the simple beauty of the natural world. The symbolism of bamboo and rocks was very ancient in Chinese culture; bamboo was admired for its resilience and beautiful green color, while the rock symbolized solidity and endurance. Here the thrusting framework of the bamboo provides a contrast to the twisting forms of the rocks. In its metaphorical aspect, this subject also constitutes a commentary on the political climate of the Yuan period, when the Mongols ruled China. The collapse of native Chinese imperial power was a bitter blow to the scholar-official class from which painters emerged. Many of them were unwilling to serve their new barbarian rulers and consequently languished in poverty. In the Chinese tradition, bamboo, which may bend with the wind but does not break, was traditionally regarded as symbolic of the junzi (gentleman), and was a suitable metaphor for the predicament of loyalist scholars under alien rule. The accompanying poem, describing the tangled bamboo growing among ancient rocks, reinforces the allusion to an uncertain future.