The Stone Bridge

Zhang Feng Chinese

Not on view

Zhang Feng's father, a military governor, died in 1631 while defending the Ming dynasty against Manchu incursions. After the fall of the Ming in 1644, Zhang withdrew from society and entered the Buddhist church. This painting, one of Zhang's last dated works, epitomizes the bold, free brush manner of his maturity. It shows a lone scholar in a wintry landscape. Clutching a staff with hands drawn into his sleeves to protect them from the cold, he stands erect and motionless beside a stone bridge. The imagery recalls the natural stone arch at Mount Tiantai, a site sacred to Buddhists. Legend has it that anyone who succeeds in crossing the slippery arch will enter paradise and become an immortal. Zhang's autobiographical figure can neither attain paradise nor return whence he came; he is riveted to the harsh reality of the present, where he must face both his limitations and his mortality.

Zhang's inscription reinforces the tension between the figure and his world:

Who is it gripping an iron staff in the jade spray
The torrent's waters ringing beneath the stone bridge?
Snow, like flowers' souls, flies about without pause;
The spring wind still awaits the mountain man's summons.

From the poem it becomes clear that spring's renewal is not forthcoming—the scholar—recluse in the painting is no more able to summon the spring wind than Zhang is capable of restoring the fallen Ming.

The Stone Bridge, Zhang Feng (Chinese, active ca. 1628–1662), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China

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