Gibbons in a Landscape

Artist: Sesson Shūkei (ca. 1504–ca. 1589)

Period: Muromachi period (1392–1573)

Date: ca. 1570

Culture: Japan

Medium: Pair of six-panel screens; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image (each screen): 62 in. x 11 ft. 5 in. (157.5 x 348 cm)

Classification: Screens

Credit Line: Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Vincent Astor Foundation, Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, and Florence and Herbert Irving Gifts, 1992

Accession Number: 1992.8.1, .2


Amidst a rocky landscape, eleven furry gibbons gambol about, sit in contemplation, and point toward the moon's reflection. Symbols of the underlying unity of all living creatures, gibbons have long been a popular theme for Zen monk-painters. This composition on a pair of folding screens is considered a late work of the Zen monk-artist Sesson Shukei and is painted with his characteristic humor and staccato contrasts of strong black ink combined with pale wash, forming rhythmic patterns that create a unified whole. The last great painter of the Muromachi period, Sesson, along with his contemporaries, exemplified the full assimilation of the Chinese-derived ink painting tradition into a form that was uniquely Japanese.