Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

Sesson Shūkei Japanese

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 228

During the turbulent years of China’s early Western Jin dynasty (265–317), seven literati secluded themselves in a bamboo grove outside the capital. There they escaped from the strictures of officialdom and Confucian conduct. They drank wine, engaged in witty Daoist discourse called qingtan, and played music and chess. Their story became legend and a frequent subject of painting in China, then Japan. In this unusually exuberant interpretation by Sesson, the sages dance wildly in the company of equally ebullient women and children. Even the bamboo seems to sway to the drumbeat. Although this type of departure from traditional iconography led to the occasional characterization of Sesson as “eccentric,” he was also a Zen monk and educated painter who studied a wide array of earlier Chinese and Japanese paintings. This work can be dated to the 1550s, when he lived near Kamakura, the old administrative capital and the early medieval cradle of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, Sesson Shūkei (ca. 1504–ca. 1589), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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