Formerly Attributed to Yi Yuanji (Chinese, died 1066)
Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279)
late 12th century
Fan mounted as an album leaf; ink and color on silk
Image: 9 1/2 in. × 9 in. (24.1 × 22.9 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1913
Not on view
Taken literally, this painting is a dramatic vignette from nature, in which three gibbons raid an egret’s nest, capturing young birds as their mother circles above in anguish. Symbolically, the animals comprise a rebus, a visual pun in which a phrase is spelled out using pictures. In Chinese, the phrase “three gibbons capture egrets” (san yuan de lu) may also be read as “a triple first gains power,” a wish for success in the three levels of the imperial examinations. Originally mounted as a fan, this exquisite painting would have been the perfect gift for an aspiring scholar preparing for the exams.
Inscription: No artist’s inscription, signature, or seal
Unidentified, 1 column in standard script, undated:
Yi Yuanji of the Northen Song dynasty. 北宋易元吉
[ John C. Ferguson , 1913; sold to MMA]
New York. China Institute in America. "Album Leaves from the Song and Yuan Dynasties," March 26, 1970–May 30, 1970.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Text and Image: The Interaction of Painting, Poetry, and Calligraphy," January 23, 1999–August 16, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Monkey Business: Celebrating the Year of the Monkey," January 8, 2016–July 24, 2016.