Painted by a member of the Song royal family who lived through the Mongol conquest, this handscroll, which revives the monochrome drawing style of the scholar-artist Li Gonglin (ca. 1041–1106), chronicles the legend of two men of the Han dynasty who stumble upon a magical realm of immortals. Returning home after what seemed like half a year, 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 felt by many of the Chinese elite following the fall of the Song dynasty in 1279.
What little we know of the artist is contained in the colophons mounted after the painting. The first, by Hua Youwu (1307–after 1386), describes Zhao Cangyun as an artist known for “boneless” (without outlines) ink-wash landscapes and delicate figure paintings. Hua also states that the artist was more famous in his youth than his fellow clansmen Zhao Mengjian (1199–before 1267) and Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). As Zhao Cangyun withdrew to the mountains and lived as a recluse, never marrying or serving as an official, no documentation, except this scroll, survives.
#7414. Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao Entering the Tiantai Mountains
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元 趙蒼雲 劉晨阮肇入天台山圖 卷
Title:Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao Entering the Tiantai Mountains
Artist:Zhao Cangyun (Chinese, active late 13th–early 14th century)
Period:Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
Medium:Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 8 7/8 in. x 18 ft. 5 in. (22.5 cm x 564 cm)
Credit Line:Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of Oscar L. Tang Family, 2005
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signature (70 columns in semi-cursive script)
Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao were from Shan County [in present day Zhejiang Province]. Although they came from old Confucian families, they were also interested in medicine and were accustomed to remaining aloof from the world. Thus did they in the fifteenth year of Yongan [sic] [Yongping永平] reign of Han emperor Mingdi (A.D. 72), take up hoe and basket and set off for the Tiantai Mountains to gather herbs.
Entering the deep mountains, they filled their baskets with herbs. After a short rest they started back, but lost their way. Their food exhausted, the two men looked at one another and were filled with fear and despair. Suddenly they saw a peach tree growing from the mountainside, heavy with ripening fruit. The men clambered up the mountain and picked the fruit—each man eating two peaches—after which their strength returned.
Peaches in their hands, they descended the mountain, seeking the way back. The winding path was rugged and difficult to make out. Eventually they found themselves t the foot of the mountain, and there they saw a clear, cold stream flowing through a ravine. Rinsing their hands, the men scooped up the water and took a drink. Suddenly they saw rutabagas flowing down the mountain stream, followed by a cup filled with sesame rice. The two men looked at one another and exclaimed: “There must be a house nearby.”
The air about the mountains is dense, The green peaks, lofty and contorted. Gazing at them you are transported To another world.
So they lifted up their baskets of herbs and waded into the stream. Because the water was nearly four feet deep, they lifted their robes in order to cross. After a third of a mile they found a small path, which led across a mountain to another stream.
The large stream at the foot of the mountain.
On the opposite side of the stream they saw two women whose marvelous beauty was of another world. The two women waved, calling Liu and Ruan by name as if they were old friends. When the two men crossed the stream the women giggled and said: “How late you are!” Their voices were dulcet, their fragrance alluring, as they spoke to the men and took them by the hand. Although they were [to the men] as brides, they behaved as if they had known them for many years. At first the two men suspected they might be witches, but gradually they lost their fear and regarded them as human.
The two women invited the men to accompany them home, leading them along a winding mountain paths through hills covered with blossoming peach trees. After about a mile they reached their residence, which was decorated in an extravagant manner beyond the likes of any mortal dwelling. To either side were serving women in light blue clothing, their manner sober and dignified, their appearance elegant and radiant as clouds. After a brief rest the women prepared a delicious meal of sesame rice and mountain goat, after which the men were no longer hungry. They inquired about the women’s families, but the ladies only laughed and made small talk, refusing to reveal anything. The two men eventually stopped asking. They realized these were strange women. And they observed that there were no men in the house.
In the courtyard a banquet was arranged, with wine and food set out to wish the men long life. After a few cups [of wine] guest immortals arrived at the ladies’ residence bringing peaches of longevity and announcing, “We have come to congratulate the grooms.” The two men paid their respects to the immortals, each of whom wore magical clothes and carried the musical instrument which they played in perfect harmony. For two or three hours the two men drank happily, while the two female immortals personally served them cups [of wine] and urged them to drink more. The beguiling melodies evoked an almost tangible sensation of spring, and the two men felt they were in paradise. The guests departed as the sun set.
The two women persuaded Liu and Ruan to remain for more than half a month, but then the men asked to return home. The women responded, “Coming upon us and living here is your good fortune. How can the herbal elixirs of the common world compare to this immortal dwelling?” So they begged the men to stay for half a year. Every day was like late spring, but the mournful cries of the mountain birds caused the two men to plead even more to return home. The women said, “Traces of your Karma have remained here, which is why you still feel this way.” So they summoned the other female immortals to bid them farewell with music, saying, “Not far from the mouth of this cave is a roadway leading to your home. It’s easy.”
The two men exited the cave and reached the roadway. They looked back but saw only the brilliant glow of peach blossoms and the layered greens of the mountain. When they arrived home, they recognized no one. Greatly perplexed, they made inquiries until they realized that [the villagers] were their seventh-generation descendants.
Finding that their homeland held neither close relations nor a place to live, the two men decided to reenter the Tiantai Mountains and seek out the roadway that they had just followed. But they way was obscured, and they became lost. Later, in the eighth year of the Taikang reign era of Jin Wudi (A.D. 287), the two again entered the Tiantai Mountains. What became of them remains unknown.
Painted and inscribed by Cangyun Shanren (Zhao Cangyun).
Zhao Heqin 趙鶴琴 (1894-1971), 1 column in clerical script, 2 columns in standard script, undated; 1 seal:
Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao Entering the Tiantai Mountains by Zhao Cangyun of the Song dynasty (960-1279), his sole surviving work, with colophons by Yao Guangxiao (1335-1418) and others. Inscribed at the front by Heqin. [Seal]: Zhao Heqin
宋趙蒼雲 《劉阮入天台圖》 卷孤本 姚廣孝等跋，鶴琴署耑。 [印]：趙鶴琴
1. Hua Youwu 華幼武 (1307-after 1386), 10 columns in standard script, dated 1379:
High-minded and eccentric and fond of drinking, Cangyun Shanren was a member of the Song imperial clan. His paintings often attained the divine class. His landscapes, mostly in the boneless ink-wash style, are boldly conceived and filled with vitality. His delicate figure paintings possess a distinctive character rare to behold. This painting, Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao Entering the Tiantai Mountains, is free and unfettered, relaxed and elegant. Its draperies of Cao [Zhongda仲達, active ca. 550-77] and scarves of Wu [Daozi道子, active ca. 710-60] and its marvelous tonalities are unattainable by most artists. I think the story of Liu and Ruan may not be entirely without basis. Tang authors have observed that female immortals belong also to the demon world. And he who acquires this ink masterpiece may indeed believe that Spiritual Mountain and Western Garden still exist. Unrolling this scroll, I felt I was amid clouds of peach blossoms and waves of willow, cooled by a breeze and warmed by the sun. In his youth Cangyun was more famous than [his fellow clansmen] Ziang (Zhao Mengfu趙孟頫, 1254-1322) and Zigu (Zhao Mengjian趙孟堅, 1199-before 1267), but because he never married and never served as an official, but withdrew to live as a recluse amid the mountain forests and lakes, his presence was elusive. So when one of his paintings was acquired, it was considered precious as jade. He was a man of remarkable ingenuity but one who also suffered; alas, there can never by another like him.
In autumn, the ninth month, of the twelfth year of the Hongwu reign (1379), Hua Youwu wrote this in the Chuncao Xuan Studio.
2. Yao Guangxiao 姚廣孝 (1335-1418), 7 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1386:
In the second month of spring in the bingyin [year, 1386], I was feeling bored and so took a boat with Hua Qibi (Hua Youwu) and sailed about the lakes for a full month. Hua’s conversation and poetry were eloquent, his eyes were keen. He was very knowledgeable and loved antiques and had a large collection of stele calligraphies. Contentedly we passed the time, discussing and evaluating [works of art] and sharing interests beyond the ordinary. From time to time we would view Zhao Cangyun’s “Princely Grandsons in the Taintai [Mountains],” admiring the animation and emotion of his figures and scenery and delighting at his conception as we rolled and unrolled the scroll. It is a painting that has attained the three perfections. Qibi had already added a colophon, and so I added mine. I have been a traveler for a long time; these days I am almost never able to quit this wandering. Do I live in this painting?
3. Song Yong 宋邕 (unidentified), 13 columns in semi-cursive script, undated:
“Liu and Ruan Encounter Immortals in a Cave”
The sky merges with the verdant color of the trees, Layered clouds and mountain mists obscure the road. Rising vapors envelop the mountains; the birds are silent. The murmur of the valley stream is like the music of pipes and reeds. In the green cave, there is no gulf between heaven and earth, The red branches of the trees are as long lived as the sun and the moon. If only people would appear among the flowers, Instead of the wailings of the immortals beckoning Liu
“The Immortals Escort Liu and Ruan Out of the Cave”
Solicitously they are escorted from the Tiantai Mountains. How can the immortals’ paradise be regained? Drink of the cloud’s nectar before going home, The jade scriptures cannot be opened at will. Flowers at the mouth of the cave will blossom forever, But water that flows out from this other world, As the bright moon shines on the jade-green mountains illuminating the verdant moss.
Wang Jiqian 王季遷 (C. C. Wang, 1907-2003) Wang Jiqian shi shending zhenji 王季遷氏審定真跡
Unidentified Zhang Boju fu 張伯擧父 Zhuchuang lao ??? 竹窗老囗囗囗（半印）
 Translated by Maxwell K. Hearn in Maxwell K. Hearn and Wen C. Fong, Along the Riverbank: Chinese Painting from the C.C. Wang Family Collection, exhibition catalogue, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999, pp. 148-149. Modified.
 Translations from Department records.
Oscar L. Tang Family , New York (until 2005; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Artist as Collector: Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the C.C.Wang Family Collection," September 2, 1999–January 9, 2000.
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. "Art of the Brush: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," March 12–August 14, 2005.
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. "The Yuan Revolution: Art and Dynastic Change," August 21, 2010–January 9, 2011.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats," August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013.
Seoul. National Museum of Korea. "Landscapes: Seeking the Ideal World," July 22, 2014–September 21, 2014.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from The Met Collection (Rotation One)," October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Show and Tell: Stories in Chinese Painting," October 29, 2016–August 6, 2017.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Up Close," January 25, 2020–June 27, 2021.
Bryant, Daniel. Lyric Poets of The Southern T’ang: Feng Yen-ssu, 903–960, and Li Yü, 937–978. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982, p. 83.
Barnhart, Richard M. Along the Border of Heaven: Sung and Yüan Paintings from the C. C. Wang Family Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 102–105, figs. 45–46.
Hearn, Maxwell K., and Wen C. Fong. Along the Riverbank: Chinese Paintings from the C. C. Wang Family Collection. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999, pp. 81–92, 148–51, pls. 3a–l.
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