Khubilai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Shizu, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) China.
The Demon-Queller Zhong Kui Giving His Sister Away in Marriage | Yan Geng, 13th century Southern Song, China. Handscroll; ink on silk; 9 5/8 x 99 3/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Here, the legendary "demon-queller" Zhong Kui leads his sister to her new home accompanied by an escort of demons performing feats of martial prowess. The comic climax to this spectacle is Zhong Kui himself, stone drunk and propped atop a small donkey by three retainers while his sister sits helplessly astride a recalcitrant water buffalo. The painting illustrates a rebus: "marrying off one's sister" (jia mei) is a pun for "subjugating demons." Yan Geng may have derived inspiration from actual New Year's processions, during which costumed figures impersonating Zhong Kui and his band of demons circulated through neighborhoods and banished evil in return for payment. Paintings on this subject clearly enjoyed widespread appeal, perhaps serving as auspicious gifts for the New Year. | Click image for larger view.
Monk Reading a Sutra by Moonlight | Unidentified Artist, ca. 1332. Hanging scroll; ink on paper; 29 3/8 x 13 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Paintings of monks reading sutras by moonlight reflect the Chan, or Zen, emphasis on remaining forever mindful, even during daily activities, in order to achieve enlightenment. Here, an elderly cleric with scraggly hair and a sparse beard sits in a remote landscape, reading a sutra. He holds the text in his left hand and twirls one of his long eyebrows with his right. The delicate rendering of the face is complemented by the thick, dark brushstrokes in his clothing. The poem, composed and written by the monk Yuxi Simin (active fourteenth century), reads: Just this one fascicle of sutra, The words are often difficult to make out. When the sun comes up, the moon also sets, When will I finish reading it? | Click image for larger view.
The Daoist Immortal Yunfang Initiating Lü Chunyang into the Secret of Immortality | Yan Hui, ca. 1300. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk; 42 11/16 x 19 3/4 in. Lent by MOA Museum of Art. The initiation of Lü Dongbin (Chunyang) by Zhongli Quan (Yunfang), both of whom were patriarchs of the Quanzhen order, is here shown as a powerful spiritual encounter set against a voided background, which enhances the intensity of the moment. The image stands in marked contrast to the more reserved representation of this scene in the Yongle Temple, which is set in a landscape. The scroll is attributed to Yan Hui, an artist known for his paintings and murals of Daoist and Buddhist subjects. Zhongli, with radiant blue eyes (a rarity in Chinese painting), stands as if poised to deliver an exhortation, raising his index finger as he hands over the secrets of immortality—indicated by the six characters on the scroll—to a deferential Lü. The soft, broad brushstrokes in the garments and delicate lines indicating hair and facial features recall conventions in Chan Buddhist paintings. | Click image for larger view.
Beneficent Rain | Zhang Yucai, early 13th–14th century. Handscroll; ink on silk; 10 9/16 in. x 8 ft. 11 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Zhang Yucai, the Thirty-eighth Celestial Master of Mount Longhu, was renowned for his paintings of bamboo and dragons. (It is only during the Yuan dynasty that Daoist worthies of such rank began to be recorded as artists.) Praised for his skills in bringing forth rain, he may have made this monumental scroll of four dragons—their bulging bodies vanishing into and emerging from the clouds and waves, their white eyeballs protruding from their heads—as part of a Daoist rainmaking ritual. Ink washes in a fine gray scale create effects of depth and light that contrast with the sharp white outlines of the dragons. | Click image for larger view.