Beneficent Rain, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), early 13th–14th century
Zhang Yucai (Chinese, active 1295–1316)
Handscroll; ink on silk; Image 10 9/16 x 107 in. (26.8 x 271.8 cm), Overall with mounting 11 x 296 13/16 in. (27.9 x 753.9 cm)
Gift of Douglas Dillon, 1985 (1985.227.2)
In Beneficent Rain, a long handscroll and the only extant painting by the thirty-eighth Celestial Master of Mount Longhu, Zhang Yucai (active 1294–1316), four dragons appear miraculously, emerging from churning waves and billowing clouds. Dragons, as symbols of nature's elemental forces, have been depicted in Chinese art from time immemorial. A special genre, dragon paintings were given powerful treatment especially by southern painters of the thirteenth century.
In Zhang's painting, the dragons' claws resemble the great crests, while their scaly tails echo the corrugated waves, allowing the dragons to merge with the water. In yin-yang terminology, the dragon represents yang; the water is yin, the complementary cosmic force. Zhang Yucai was praised for his skills in bringing forth rain; Beneficent Rain may have been painted to accompany rainmaking rituals.