Yao Shou left government service in 1468 and retired to Jiaxing, hometown of the Yuan artist Wu Zhen (1280–1354), to devote himself to self-cultivation and the arts. Taking Wu Zhen's paintings as his model, Yao Shou had an important influence on Suzhou (Wu school) artists through his friendship with the Suzhou amateur Shen Zhou (1427–1509).
Yao's round brush lines, vigorous dotting, and subtle ink washes in Drinking to the Accompaniment of Letters derive from Wu Zhen; the same vocabulary of brushstrokes forms the basis of Shen Zhou's painting style. In subject matter, too, Yao's focus on his garden retreat—represented by the Yuan convention of a thatched hut—presages Wu school artists' fondness for depicting the gardens and specific topographic sites where they gathered to create or appreciate poetry and paintings.
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明 姚綬 文飲圖 卷
Title:Drinking and Composing Poetry
Artist:Yao Shou (Chinese, 1423–1495)
Period:Ming dynasty (1368–1644)
Medium:Handscroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:Image: 9 3/16 × 30 3/8 in. (23.3 × 77.2 cm) Other (Colophon): 9 3/16 × 30 in. (23.3 × 76.2 cm) Overall with mounting: 9 11/16 in. × 24 ft. 11 3/16 in. (24.6 × 759.9 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988
Inscription: Artist’s inscriptions and signatures
1.Frontispiece of 2 characters in clerical script, followed by 1 column in semi-cursive script, undated:
Drinking to the Accompaniment of Letters
Yundong Yishi [Yao Shou] wrote in the clerical script to honor antiquity.
2. Essay and poem after the painting, 41 columns in standard and semi-cursive scripts, dated 1485:
Drinking to the Accompaniment of Letters is like saying we will not get drunk. When drunk a man cannot keep his head. He stands up and dances, cries and shouts. He loses his sense of virtue and dignity in this wild intoxication. With “letters” this can never happen.
Some out of fear of wine say that people should stop drinking. However, even the wise kings of ancient times did not give up holding drinking parties for their guests. How can we do without drinking! That is why there are admonitions to control drinking. The Book of Poetry [Shi jing] describes inspectors and historiographers attending court parties, and guests were to show respect a hundredfold as they performed the ritual. These rules were laid down to allow people to enjoy drinking remembering virtue.
It is nearly twenty years since in the wuzi year of Chenghua  I resigned my stipend and came to field and forest. Whenever guests happened to come I prepared drink and dried meat, vegetables and fruits, in a kiosk I call Village of Immortals [Xiancun]. While drinking if there were someone good at composing a poem, we would take up brushes, produce paper, and write poems expressing our feelings about the season or things seen – each according to his own idea – no matter whether a long piece or a short sketch, in ancient or in modern style.
We liked mostly to lodge our feelings in landscapes of mountain or forest, or in the music of the lute [qin], the playing of chess, fishing or wandering. I humbly added my name to all this, as I wished to record in lasting fashion that this Auspicious Reign allows even such a useless fellow to enjoy a peaceful life of this kind.
Mr. Qian Shiwang, whose style name is Master of World Remedy, often came to drink at my place, and he brought this scroll asking me to write on it. This is the start of writing [our poems], so I have given it the title of Drinking to the Accompaniment of Letter (Wenzi yin).
Whether as the classics, commentary, history or other forms, whether monumental or sketchy, archaic or modern, “letters” are among all things between Heaven and Earth that are truly indispensable. How could it be considered of small benefit to the world? The reason why we give priority to “letters” in drinking is to let people know that we consider host as guest and would end our days in the joys of drinking. After all we are not those men who are criticized by Han Yu as unable to comprehend “letters.”
On the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month in the yisi year (1485). [Signed] Yishi (Yao Shou)
[Trans. by Shujiro Shimada in Laurence Sickman, ed., Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr., New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library, 1962, cat. no. 57, p. 127. Modified.]
Gu Luofu 顧洛阜 (John M. Crawford, Jr., 1913–1988) Gu Luofu 顧洛阜 Hanguang Ge 漢光閣
John M. Crawford Jr. American, New York (until d. 1988; bequeathed to MMA)
London. Victoria and Albert Museum. "Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr.," June 17, 1965–August 1, 1965.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Text and Image: The Interaction of Painting, Poetry, and Calligraphy," January 23–August 16, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection (Rotation Two)," May 7–October 11, 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Companions in Solitude: Reclusion and Communion in Chinese Art," July 31, 2021–August 14, 2022.
Suzuki Kei 鈴木敬, ed. Chûgoku kaiga sogo zuroku: Daiikan, Amerika-Kanada Hen 中國繪畫總合圖錄: 第一卷 アメリカ - カナダ 編 (Comprehensive illustrated catalog of Chinese paintings: vol. 1 American and Canadian collections) Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1982, pp. 102–103, cat. no. A15-033.
Shih Shou-ch'ien, Maxwell K. Hearn, and Alfreda Murck. The John M. Crawford, Jr., Collection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Checklist. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, p. 26, cat. no. 52.
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