Incense holder with scholars in a landscape

Artist: Zhu Sansong (active ca. 1573–1619)

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: late 16th–early 17th century

Culture: China

Medium: Bamboo

Dimensions: Overall (including new wooden ends) H. 7 in. (17.8 cm)

Classification: Bamboo

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.271


Made for holding stick incense, this bamboo vessel has openwork carving to facilitate the release of the fragrant smoke. The openwork relief depicts "Laughter at Tiger Creek," the legendary story of the meeting of the famous Buddhist monk Huiyuan (334–416) with the poet Dao Qian (365—427) and the Daoist priest Lu Xiujing (407–477) on Mount Lu, Jiangxi Province, where Huiyuan's monastery, the Donglin Si, was situated. Huiyuan is shown talking to Dao Qian under a tree; Lu Xiujing stands on a bridge on the other side of the vessel. Several layers of perforated fantastic rocks and a pine with a scaly trunk and twisting branches constitute the shallow, compact backdrop. The carver's signature appears in intaglio on a foreground rock.

Zhu Sansong descended from a family of bamboo carvers in Jiading, Jiangsu Province. His works and those of his father, Zhu Ying (1520–1587), are characterized by crowded compositions of figures in nature, spatial compression, and a keen interest in the characters' interactions through expression and posture. Compared with his father's output, Sansong's style is more developed in its use of high relief. The Zhu family founded the Jiading school of bamboo carving, and their followers flourished until the eighteenth century.