Shitao (Zhu Ruoji) (Chinese, 16421707)
Handscroll; ink on paper; 18 1/4 x 235 5/16 in. (46.4 x 597.8 cm)
Inscribed by the artist and by Mei Qing (Chinese, 16241697)
Gift of Douglas Dillon, 1985 (1985.227.1)
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 (died 1676). In the late 1660s and 1670s, while living in seclusion in temples around Xuancheng, Anhui Province, he trained himself to paint.
In The Sixteen Luohans, Shitao's earliest extant major work, the young painter, then twenty-five, drew possibly the most effective figures since the Yuan period. The scroll depicts a rare religious subject for Shitao, known for his visionary landscapesthe sixteen guardian luohans (Sanskrit: arhats) 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 Wu Bin (active ca. 15831626) (1986.266.4). But 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.