Orchids and Rock

Artist: Gyokuen Bonpō (Japanese, ca. 1348–after 1420)

Period: Muromachi period (1392–1573)

Date: late 14th–early 15th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: 39 9/16 x 13 1/8 in. (100.5 x 33.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.268.38


In the final stroke of the smoothly inflected brush line, the semicursive calligraphy of Bonpō’s inscription is visually united with the expansive rendering of the orchid’s supple leaves and fragile blossoms. Orchids and rocks are cherished in literati lore as symbolic of the scholar’s purity of heart, loyalty, and integrity. The “dancing pair” of the poem refers to the fragrant, small-blossomed Epidendrum to the right of the rock and the larger, more colorful Cymbidium orchids, clustered at the center.

Bedecked in garlands, the dancing pair
Combines their rival fragrance.
One must sip their precious dew.
Who can make anew these deep-red tassels?
I dashed off this poem and painting for the Honorable Cai.
—Barbara Brennan Ford