Luohans (arhats, in Sanskrit), disciples of the Buddha, were widely regarded in China as guardian saints who remained in the world as protectors of the Buddhist faithful until the coming of the future Buddha. As the Ming dynasty began to unravel from political corruption, the cult of the luohans enjoyed widespread popularity as people were increasingly attracted to messianic religious movements with their promise of salvation from the ills of this life. It was in this context that a new expressionistic style of Buddhist painting arose. Ding Yunpeng was one of the initiators of this revival.
Eighteen Luohans presents a fusion of Ding's earlier meticulous fine-line drawing style with the psychological intensity of his later archaistic manner. Painted when he was sixty-two, the images demonstrate qualities of introspection and serene strength. His pale sensitive brushwork draws the viewer into the composition like a guided meditation. Like the path of gradual enlightenment that the ascetics epitomize, these images are not instantly comprehensible to the viewer but must be contemplated slowly, one by one. It is only then that one discovers their striking individuality and spiritual force.
Inscription: Artist's inscription and signature (1 column in standard script)
Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉 (1866–1940), 1 column in semi-cursive/standard script, undated; 1 illegible seal:
Dai Zhi 戴植 (19th c.) 古潤戴培之收藏書畫私印 翰墨軒 潤州戴植字培之鋻藏書畫章
Chen Baochen 陳寳琛 (1848-1935) 弢庵審定
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The New Chinese Galleries: An Inaugural Installation," 1997.