Bamboo in Snow

Artist: Attributed to Tan Zhirui 檀芝瑞 (late 13th-early 14th century)
Calligrapher: Inscription by Yishan Yining (1247-1317)
Historical period(s)
Yuan dynasty, late 13th-early 14th century
Ink on paper
H x W (image): 31.5 x 20.6 cm (12 3/8 x 8 1/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Album, Painting

Album leaf

bamboo, China, snow, Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368)
Provenance research underway.

This small painting--originally mounted as a hanging scroll--is the only snow scene among the few surviving works attributed to Tan Zhirui. At upper right, it bears a tattered inscription by the eminent Chan (Zen) monk Yishan Yining (1247-1317), who was sent to Japan in 1299 as a personal envoy of the Yuan dynasty emperor of China. In Japan, Yishan was elevated to the position of abbot at a succession of prominent Zen monasteries, first in Kamakura, the seat of government, and then in Kyoto, the imperial capital, where he died some eighteen years later. Having brought a sizable collection of texts and paintings from China, Yishan may have kept this snow scene among his personal effects, for he inscribed it with the following poem:

Freezing snow, thinly scattered,
Myriad jades, standing thickly:
Throughout the spell of winter,
The dense grove brightly shines.

(Translation by Stephen D. Allee)

Like many Chan poems, this deceptively simple description of snowy bamboo contains several layers of meaning. For example, the term "myriad jades" in line two also refers to a congregation or community of wise and worthy gentlemen (such as monks), while the "dense grove" in line four is a common term for a Buddhist monastery.

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1: p. 240.
  • Chung-kuo shu hua [Chinese Painting]. Taipei. vol. 3: p. 38.
  • James Cahill. Chinese Album Leaves in the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and Japan, 1961-1962. p. 35, pl. 19.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
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