Image: 18 1/4 x 235 3/4 in. (46.4 x 598.8 cm) Overall with mounting: 22 5/16 x 895 in. (56.7 x 2273.3 cm)
Gift of Douglas Dillon, 1985
Not on view
Shitao, born Zhu Ruoji, a scion of the Ming imperial family, escaped death in his youth by taking refuge in the Buddhist priesthood. In 1662 he became a disciple of the powerful Chan (Zen) master Lü’an Benyue (d. 1676). In the late 1660s and 1670s, while living in seclusion in temples around Xuancheng, Anhui Province, he taught himself to paint.
In The Sixteen Luohans, Shitao’s earliest major extant work, the young painter, then twenty-five, drew what are possibly the most effective figures since the Yuan period (1279–1368). A rare religious subject for Shitao, known for his visionary landscapes, the scroll depicts the sixteen guardian luohans (saints) ordered by the Buddha to live in the mountains and protect the Buddhist law until the coming of the future Buddha.
Stylistically, the immediate sources for Shitao’s figures were late Ming painters, such as Ding Yunpeng (1547–ca. 1621) and Wu Bin (act. ca. 1583–1626). Unlike Wu Bin’s luohans, which seem to be merely grotesque caricatures, Shitao’s are carefully observed, showing such thoroughly human qualities as humor and curiosity.
Inscription: Artist’s inscription and signatures (1 column in standard script)
[Painted in the] dingwei year  by the “grandson” of Tiantong Min [Muchen Daomin, 1596–1674], and the “son” of Shanguo Yue [Lü’an Benyue, died 1676], Shitao, Ji.
Ji shanseng 濟山僧 Qingxiang Shitao 清湘石濤
Mei Qing 梅清 (1623–1697), 12 columns in semi-cursive/standard script, undated; 2 seals:
Among the inspired practitioners of monochrome drawing (baimiao), the very best is Longmian [Li Gonglin, ca. 1041–1106)]. Most [works attributed to him] that I have seen are imitations, not authentic. Master Shitao's Sixteen Luohans [possesses] exquisite detail, bravura [brush] movements, a divinely interesting composition, and brushwork and ink washes that almost exhaust [the possibilities of] creative metamorphosis. He said that this handscroll took one year from start to finish. I have set it out on my table and admired it tens of times, but I have never been able to exhaust one ten-thousandth [of its richness]. Respectfully inscribed by Qushan, Mei Qing. [Seals]: Mei zi, Chen Qing