Zhao Cangyun (Chinese, active late 13th–early 14th century)
Handscroll: ink on paper
8 1/2 in. x 18 ft. 6 1/4 in. (.22 x 5.64 m)
Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Partial and Promised Gift of the Oscar L. Tang Family, 2005 (2005.494.1)
Painted by Zhao Cangyun, a member of the Song royal family who lived through the Mongol conquest in 1279, this handscroll chronicles the legend of two Han-dynasty men who stumble upon a magical realm of immortals. Returning home after what had seemed like half a year's time, they discover that seven generations have come and gone and that they are alone in the world. The men's loss of home and paradise evokes the disorientation and alienation the Chinese elite must have felt after the Song dynasty fell to the Mongols. Delineated in rich shades of monochrome ink on paper in a style that revives the monochrome drawing manner of the scholar-artist Li Gonglin (ca. 10411106), the story unfolds as an episodic narrative, with individual scenes set off from one another by blank spaces inscribed with text. In the section illustrated here, Liu and Ruan are guests at an elaborate outdoor banquet.
Because he never married or served as an official and withdrew to the mountains to live as a recluse, we know nothing about Zhao Cangyun except what is contained in several later colophons, which tell us that he was known for ink wash landscapes and delicate figure paintings.