Wen Zhengming painted Living Aloft for his friend Liu Lin (1474–1561), who, at the age of seventy, had retired from government service but had not yet built a home suitable for his new life. Wen's painting presents an idealized vision of life in retirement: separated from the outside world by a stream and a rustic wall, two friends enjoy each other's company in a two-story hall that is further isolated in a tall grove of trees. Wen elaborates on the pleasures of such a life in his accompanying poem:
Immortals have always delighted in pavilion-living, Windows open on eight sides-eyebrows smiling. Up above towers and halls well up, Down below, clouds and thunder are vaguely sensed. Reclining on a dais, a glimpse of Japan, Leaning on a balustrade, the sight of Manchuria. While worldly affairs shift and change, In their midst a lofty man is at ease.
(After Ling-yün Shih Liu, trans., in Richard Edwards et al., The Art of Wen Cheng-ming [1470–1559] [Ann Arbor: Museum of Art, University of Michigan, 1976], p. 150)
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明 文徵明 樓居圖軸
Title:Living Aloft: Master Liu's Retreat
Artist:Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559)
Period:Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Medium:Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image: 37 1/2 x 18 in. (95.3 x 45.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 82 1/8 x 25 1/4 in. (208.6 x 64.1 cm) Overall with knobs: 82 1/8 x 29 5/8 in. (208.6 x 75.2 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill, in honor of Wen C. Fong, 2015
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (9 columns in standard script)
Immortals have always delighted in pavilion-living: Windows open on eight sides—eyebrows smiling, Overhead towers and halls welling up, Down below "cloud and thunder" halls dimly viewed. Reclining on a dais, a glimpse of Japan; Leaning on a balustrade, the sight of Manchuria. While worldly affairs shift and change In their midst a lofty man is at peace.
Mr. Liu Nantan [Liu Lin, 1474–1561] retired from government, and upon his return home, he planned to build a dwelling—so you will know his noble character. Although the building is not yet completed, in anticipation of it, I have composed a poem and sketched its concept. Another day he can hang it at his right hand to enrich that pavilion-living. Inscribed by Zhengming on the sixteenth day of the seventh [lunar] month in the autumn of the guimao year of the Jiajing reign era [August 16, 1543].
 Translation by Maxwell K. Hearn, from Hearn, Cultivated Landscapes: Chinese Paintings from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002, p. 166, after that of Ling-yün Shih Liu and Richard Edwards in Richard Edwards et al. The Art of Wen Cheng-ming (1470–1559). Ann Arbor: Museum of Art, University of Michigan, 1976, p. 150.
Mr. and Mrs. David Spelman , Great Neck, N.Y., until 1979; sale Sotheby's, New York, Important Chinese Ceramics, Archaic Jades, Bronzes, Sculpture, Works of Art and Paintings, November 2, 1979, lot 111 to Weill; Marie-Hélène and Guy A. Weill , New York (1979–2015; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The New Chinese Galleries: An Inaugural Installation," 1997.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Cultivated Landscapes: Reflections of Nature in Chinese Painting with Selections from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill," September 10, 2002–February 9, 2003.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," August 28, 2004–February 20, 2005.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Four Seasons," January 28–August 13, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Journeys: Mapping the Earth and Mind in Chinese Art," February 10–August 26, 2007.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings," March 1–August 10, 2008.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of the Ming Dynasty: China's Age of Brilliance," January 23–September 13, 2009.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats," August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection (Rotation Two)," May 7–October 11, 2016.
Gao Juhan (James Cahill) 高居翰. Jiang'an songbie: Ming dai chuqi yu zhongqi huihua 江岸送別： 明代初期與中期繪畫 (Parting at the shore:Chinese painting of the early and middle Ming dynasty, 1368–1580. Translated by Wang Jingfei 王靜霏. Taipei: Shitou chuban gongsi, 1997, pp. 249–50, fig. 6.6.
Clunas, Craig. Elegant debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming, 1470–1559. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004, p. 87, pl. 36.
Hearn, Maxwell K. How to Read Chinese Paintings. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008, pp. 118–21, cat. no. 27.
He Muwen 何慕文 (Hearn, Maxwell K.). Ruhe du Zhongguo hua: Daduhui Yishu Bowuguan cang Zhongguo shuhua jingpin daolan 如何读中国画 : 大都会艺术博物馆藏中国书画精品导览 (How to read Chinese paintings) Translated by Shi Jing 石静. Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 2015, pp. 118–21, cat. no. 27.
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