Bamboo under Spring Rain
, Tianshun Period (1457-64), c. 1460
Attributed to Xia Chang, Chinese
Ink on paper; mounted as a handscroll
20 1/2 inches × 31 feet 7 15/16 inches (52 × 965 cm)
Purchased with the Joseph E. Temple Fund and the John T. Morris Fund, 1953
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About This Painting
This painting of bamboo growing along a riverbank is one section of
an enormous handscroll, over thirty feet long, made more than five
hundred years ago in China. Only one section of the scroll
at a time, as it is unrolled horizontally
from right to left. The painter, Xia Chang (sha chung), was a member of the literati
, a class of highly
educated men who were also calligraphers and artists. Xia Chang is
known primarily for his ink paintings of bamboo.
Xia used an unusual point of view
for this painting—close up and very
low, as if we, the viewers, were floating on the surface of the river like
water bugs, watching the bamboo forest glide by. His elegant black
brushstrokes dance across the paper, each one unique, becoming
clusters of bamboo leaves. Blurry dots and thin, gray washes
convey the softness of the mossy riverbank. He painted the angular
rocks with a drier brush, giving them a rough texture
. All these brushstrokes and tones contrast
with the open space created by the white paper.
Bamboo represents values and qualities the literati admired in nature.
It is supple and graceful, but also tough and unbreakable. Like a pine
tree, it is an evergreen, which means it thrives in the winter. In Chinese,
the word for "node" (a bump on a branch) or "joining point" sounds
just like the word for "integrity," and bamboo has many nodes.
Paintings of bamboo require similar skills, tools, and materials as
: brush, ink, and water. For centuries, only talented literati highly trained in calligraphy were considered worthy of making black ink paintings of bamboo.
This object is included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across
Time and Cultures, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by the Comcast Foundation, The Delphi Project
Foundation, and Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company.