Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

南宋 傳直翁 藥山李翱問道圖 軸
Meeting between Yaoshan and Li Ao

Attributed to Zhiweng (Chinese, active first half of the 13th century)
Song dynasty (960–1279)
before 1256
Horizontal painting mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 12 1/2 x 33 1/4 in. (31.8 x 84.5 cm) Overall with mounting: 49 1/8 x 34 in. (124.8 x 86.4 cm) Overall with knobs: 49 1/8 x 36 1/4 in. (124.8 x 92.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Edward Elliott Family Collection, Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1982
Accession Number:
Not on view
This painting was inscribed by the Chan (Zen) Buddhist priest Yanxi Guangwen between 1254 and 1256, while he was abbot of Lingyin temple in Hangzhou. The work is an important example of early Chan Buddhist "apparition" painting, so called for its pale, sensitive brushwork.

Depicted here is a famous encounter between the Confucian scholar Li Ao (active ca. 840) and the Chan master Yaoshan. Having heard of the master's reputation, the scholar went to see him but was disappointed and remarked: "Seeing your face is not as good as hearing your name." The master replied: "Would you distrust your eye and value your ear?" Then, pointing up and down, the master indicated that the ultimate reality is in what can be seen, such as "clouds in the sky and water in a vase."

Yanxi Guangwen's inscription on the painting reads:

All moments of enlightenment come in a flash,
Why distrust your eye and value your ear?
Just as between the water and the clouds,
Do not say there is nothing there.

Just as the Chan master used riddles to sharpen the student's perception in spite of distracting hearsay, the Chan painter used a simple and spontaneous, albeit elusive, brush style to capture his fleeting vision of truth.
Inscription: No artist’s inscription, signature, or seal

Other inscription

Yanxi Guangwen 偃溪廣聞 (1189–1263), 8 columns in semi-cursive script, undated; 2 seals:

All moments of enlightenment come in a flash;
Why distrust your eye and value your ear?
Just as between the water and the clouds,
Don’t say there is nothing there.[1]
???? [Seals]: Guangwen yinzhang, Yanxi

住冷泉囗囗 [印]: 廣聞印章、偃溪

[1] Translation from Maxwell K. Hearn, How to Read Chinese Paintings. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008, cat. no. 13, p. 66.
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