Unidentified Artist Chinese, active mid-13th century
Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 25 1/4 in. × 13 in. (64.1 × 33 cm) Overall with mounting: 58 1/4 × 13 1/2 in. (148 × 34.3 cm) Overall with knobs: 58 1/4 × 15 1/4 in. (148 × 38.7 cm)
Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Not on view
Painted in a few swift brushstrokes and deftly applied ink washes, Chan Master Riding a Mule exemplifies the freely expressive manner of Chan (Zen, in Japanese) Buddhist painting, which relies less on descriptive detail than on the capturing of spiritual concentration within the artist to achieve a vivid depiction. Inscribed by the noted Chan master Wuzhun, to whom it traditionally has been attributed, the painting is probably the work of a contemporary Chan artist following the sketchy brush style of Liang Kai (active first half of the thirteenth century).
Wuzhun, well known for his wisdom as well as for his eccentric behavior, inscribed this painting while he was living at the Qingshansi, a Chan temple near Hangzhou, where he settled after he was rewarded by Emperor Lizong (r. 1225–1264) following an imperial audience. The rider's facial features-prominent forehead, mustache, and wispy beard-are not unlike those of Wuzhun himself, whose formal portrait, with an inscription by him dated 1238, is now in the Tofuku-ji temple in Kyoto. His laconic inscription may also be a self-deprecatory reference to himself:
As rain darkens the mountain, One mistakes a mule for a horse.