Grooms and Horses

Artist: Zhao Mengfu (Chinese, 1254–1322)

Artist: Zhao Yong (Chinese, 1289–after 1360)

Artist: Zhao Lin (Chinese, active second half of the 14th century)

Period: Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Date: date 1296 and 1359

Culture: China

Medium: Handscroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 11 7/8 x 70 1/8 in. (30.2 x 178.1 cm)
Overall with mounting: 12 1/4 in. x 29 ft. 2 1/2 in. (31.1 x 890.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988

Accession Number: 1988.135


In the early Yuan period, when the ruling Mongols curtailed the employment of Chinese scholar-officials, the theme of the groom and horse-one associated with the legendary figure of Bole, whose ability to judge horses had become a metaphor for the recruitment of able government officials-became a symbolic plea for the proper use of scholarly talent. Zhao Mengfu painted this work for the high-ranking Surveillance Commissioner Feiqing, who may have been a government recruiter. Executed in early 1296, shortly after Zhao withdrew from civil service, the sensitively rendered groom may be a self-portrait.

The striking geometry of the composition, made up of a series of prominent arcs in the figures of the horse and groom, and framed by the level ground line and vertical inscription, appears to have been constructed with a compass and square. The Chinese term "compass-square" (guiju) means "regulation" or "order." Thus, the painting may also be read as a metaphor for good government and, by extension, a measure of the artist's moral rectitude.