Chan master riding a mule

Unidentified artist

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 212

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.

Chan master riding a mule, Unidentified artist Chinese, active mid-13th century, Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.