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Gumei (early 17th century)

“Mazu and Friends Enjoying the Moon”

Hanging scroll, ink on paper
114.1 x 47.3 cm. (45 x 18 5/8 in.)

Artist’s seal:

“When Patriarch Ma was enjoying the moon he asked: ‘What ought we to do at this moment?’
Baizhang replied: ‘We should nourish our (spiritual) selves;’ Xitang said: ‘We should cultivate our morality;’ Nanquan shook his sleeves (in disagreement) and left. Patriarch (Ma) then said: ‘The sutras can be placed in the storehouse and Chan practices returned across the sea (to India). Then there is only Puyuan (‘Universal Resolve,’ the personal name of Nanquan), there is only Puyuan.’ Kyoshi (‘Old Man in Retirement’).”

Box inscription:
“Painting of Patriarch Ma enjoying the moon, given to the Zen master Daiden Butchō, in the 87th generation of Daitokuji, the monk Kyoshi Shuban; painted by Gumei. Recorded and owned by Torifuji Koji.”

Kawai Masatomo: Yūshō/Tōgan, Nihon Bijutsu Kaiga Zenshū, vol, 11, Tokyo, 1987, pl. 22, p. 110.

In the painting proper the patriarch Mazu Daoyi (709-788) of the Nanyue School of Chan Buddhism looks up at the moon while conversing with the monks Baizhang and Xitang; the fourth monk, Nanchuan turns his back on the other three and leaves. The painting thus captures the spirit of individualism that characterized Buddhism during the Tang dynasty, a time when fierce debates on the role to be played by scriptures, images, and ceremonial practices divided believers into various sects and branches. Mazu held that books and outward ritual were useless and to be discarded, arguing for the abstraction of the mind from all phenomena perceived through the senses, and even from its own thoughts.

The painter Gumei was one of the circle of artists who gathered around Kaiho Yusho (1533-1615) and he worked with Yusho on various commissions, especially those calling for oshiebari screens in which each panel was decorated by a different artist. The figures painted by Yusho are sometimes termed fukuro or “bag” figures in reference to their strong volumetric character, and Gumei’s figures in the present painting share that same distinguishing characteristic as well as a similar use of ink wash combined with strong accents in darker and dryer ink.

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