Noble Virtues: Nature as Symbol in Chinese Art

September 10, 2022–January 29, 2023
Previously on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Galleries 210–216
Free with Museum admission

Flowers, plants, and animals abound in Chinese art. From simple objects for the home to fancy vessels for the imperial court, popular prints to meticulously crafted paintings, manifestations of the natural world are found nearly everywhere.

Sometimes these images are purely decorative, but often they carry meanings drawn from history, poetry, and cultural memory. Bamboo, for instance, which bends in the cold wind without breaking, can be a symbol of the virtuous person withstanding hard times; the plum blossom, which dares to bloom in the chill of early spring, an emblem of righteous bravery. For artists and viewers alike, associations such as these added layers of depth to an artwork. In this way, a vignette of the natural world could become a celebration of life, a wish for good fortune, or even a defiant act of protest.

This exhibition, drawn primarily from The Met collection, introduces some of these themes through over 100 works of painting, calligraphy, and decorative arts.

The exhibition is made possible by the Joseph Hotung Fund.

Exhibition Objects

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Windblown bamboo, Yang Han  Chinese, Hanging scroll; ink on paper, China
Yang Han (Chinese, active late 17th century)
Orchids and bamboo, Zheng Xie  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
Zheng Xie (Chinese, 1693–1765)
dated 1742
Censer decorated with the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove 
, Porcelain painted in underglaze cobalt blue (Jingdezhen ware), China
ca. 1640
Bamboo copied after Wen Tong, Ke Jiusi  Chinese, Hanging scroll; ink on silk, China
Ke Jiusi (Chinese, 1290–1343)
dated 1343
Brush Holder, Gu Jue  Chinese, Bamboo with hardwood rim and base, China
Gu Jue (active late 17th century)
Marquee: Zheng Xie, Orchids and Bamboo(detail), Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), dated 1742. Handscroll; ink on paper. Edward Elliott Family Collection, Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1981