Lions at the Stone Bridge of Mount Tiantai

Soga Shōhaku Japanese
Inscribed by Gazan Nanso Japanese

Not on view

In this fantastical scene at the natural stone bridge on Mount Tiantai, in China’s Zhejiang province, a mother lion throws cubs over the cliff to see which will persevere to succeed in life by climbing back to her. Analogies are often made to artists or teachers testing pupils in similar ways. Mount Tiantai, home to the Tiantai sect of Buddhism, is also a sacred site for Daoist practice. In China as in Japan, mountains were long regarded as intermediary places between heaven and earth, where immortals and humans could meet.

One of the “eccentrics” of Edo painting, Soga Shōhaku often featured exaggerated, restless brushwork as well as outlandish subject matter. This hanging scroll shows Shōhaku at the height of his creativity; he transforms a rarely depicted theme into a work that combines fluid, disciplined brushwork with dramatic composition and bizarre imagery.

Lions at the Stone Bridge of Mount Tiantai, Soga Shōhaku (Japanese, 1730–1781), Hanging scroll; ink on silk, Japan

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