A Myriad Bamboo

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Artist: Song Ke 宋克 (1327-1387)
Colophon: Colophon by Dong Chang (ca. 1335-ca. 1408) Colophon by Yang Zhu (1369-1453) Colophon by Qian Bo (ca. 1410-1480)
Historical period(s)
Ming dynasty, 1369
Ink on paper
H x W (image): 24.9 x 98.1 cm (9 13/16 x 38 5/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


bamboo, China, landscape, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644)
Provenance research underway.

In Chinese tradition, the resilient, evergreen bamboo symbolizes the gentleman who sustains his moral integrity despite adverse conditions. Starting in the eleventh century, bamboo became an especially popular motif among the emerging class of scholar-artists who applied techniques of calligraphic brushwork to the subject and developed a style of painting bamboo using only ink. Created in 1369, the second year of the Ming dynasty, this short handscroll is an excellent example of an approach that arose during the fourteenth century. Rendered in varying shades of ink, several groves of bamboo grow along the slopes and bluffs above a stream, each tapered leaf and jointed stem individually rendered. Landscape elements are simply drawn, with long, dragged lines of pale, dry ink indicating volume and contour, and occasional dark, wet dabs used to accent the softly rounded, geometric land forms.

While Song Ke is best known as one of the leading calligraphers of the early Ming dynasty, several of his paintings have also survived, all of which depict bamboo in landscape settings. As with most of his existing works, Song Ke painted this handscroll as a gift for a friend.

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit http://www.asia.si.edu/SongYuan/default.asp Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • George Du Bois. Understanding China: Dangerous Resentments. .
  • Chung-kuo shu hua [Chinese Painting]. Taipei. vol. 3: p. 40.
  • Osvald Siren. A History of Later Chinese Painting. 2 vols., London. vol. I, pl. 7.
  • To So Gen Min meiga taikan [A Catalogue of Famous Paintings of the Tang, Sung, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties]. Exh. cat. Tokyo. pl. 223.
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1 (1982 ed.): pp. 204-205.
  • Osvald Siren. Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles. 7 vols., New York and London, 1956-1958. vol. 6: pl. 56.
  • Chugoku bijutsu [Chinese Art in Western Collections]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1972-1973. vol. 2: pl. 73.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 48, vol. 1: p. 161.
  • Fengqing (Feng-ching) Yu. Yushi shu hua ti ba ji [Mr. Yu's Collection of Inscriptions from Calligraphy and Paintings]. 4 vols., Shanghai. pp. 6, 19.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 53.
  • 17th-Century Chinese Paintings: From the Tsao Family Collection. Los Angeles, California. p. 439, fig. 79.1.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
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