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Anonymous, Korean 無款
(15th-16th century)

“Ducks and Lotus”

Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
84.0 x 35.6 cm (33 x 14 1/8 in.)

Seal: Zizhan

A pair of ducks swim at the base of lotus plants, the leaves and stalks of which spread to create interesting patterns. Above are two dragonflies circling a seed-bearing tree. In Buddhist ritual the duck or ya symbolizes another character read ya and meaning “to suppress (evil),” while the lotus lian is phonetically identical with lian meaning “uninterrupted;” the painting thus visually conveys the salutary idea of “continuous suppression of evil.”

An anonymous Chinese 13th century painting of the same subject, with the same connotations, is one of a pair designed to flank an icon of some Buddhist deity (fig. 1) This Piling style of painting was continued during the Yuan dynasty by such artists as Qian Xuan (ca.1240-ca.1311) and spread to both Korea and Japan. The stylistic transformation of the style between China and Korea can be suggested by a Korean painting of “Egrets and Lotus” dated to the 16th century (fig. 2) and a Yuan dynasty work of the same subject (fig. 3).1 The present painting, which compares well with the Korean example in figure 2, is a worthy contribution to this lineage, with the seal reading Zizhan paying homage to the origins of the literati tradition, since that is the by-name of Su Shi (1036-1101).

The present painting contrasts with the Chinese examples in a number of ways, especially the lack of a consistent viewpoint such that the lotus are viewed frontally while the ducks are seen from above. Also, the ripples that appear around the swimming ducks are a common feature in Korean painting, as is the attention paid to the insects flying above.2

1. I thank Hiroshi Kawasaki for providing this comparison for our scroll.
2. We are grateful to Dr. Robert D. Mowry for these observations on the painting.

Fig. 1. Anonymous: “Ducks and Lotus,” after Sogen no kaiga, Kyoto, 1962, cat. 62, right scroll.

Fig. 2. Anonymous Korean: “Egrets and Lotus,” after Paintings of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty and Japan, 2008-09, Tochigi Prefectural Museum, Sendai City Museum, Shizuoka Prefecture, cat. 116.

Fig. 3. Xu Chongsi, attributed: “Egrets and Lotus,” 14th century, Tokyo National Museum, after Suiboku bijutsu taikei, vol. III, Tokyo, 1973, pl. 82.

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