Kuncan / Temple on a Mountain Ledge / Qing period, dated 1661Kuncan
Temple on a Mountain Ledge
Qing period, dated 1661

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Creator Name: Kuncan
Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: 1612-c. 1686
Creator Name-CRT: Kuncan
Title: Temple on a Mountain Ledge
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1661
Creation End Date: 1661
Creation Date: Qing period, dated 1661
Creation Place: China
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: Ink and color on paper
Parts and Pieces: hanging scroll
Dimensions: 33 1/2 x 19 in. (85.1 x 48.3 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.124
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: Since at least the Northern Song period (960-1126), landscape paintings have played a critical role in Chinese art, culture, and thought, and they have been imbued with many interrelated levels of meaning. Landscape paintings have been seen as metaphors for religious and personal development, as statements of individual or cultural values, and as political icons, and they were an important means of communication among educated individuals, particularly the group of artists who have traditionally been classified as literati or scholar-gentlemen (wenjen). The perfection of this art form in the hands of these literati artists has been understood to reflect the self-cultivation and depth of knowledge of this group of painters.

A monumental landscapein the Northern Song tradition is the primary theme of Temple on a Mountain Ledge, a painting by Kuncan. Painted during Kuncan's most productive period, 1660-79, this landscape shows his indebtedness to the compositions of such artists as Wang Meng(1303-1385) and Dong Qichang (1555-1636), both of whom were extremely influential for 17th-century painters. The pulsating energy and naturalistic forms seen in Temple on a Mountain Ledge, however, distinguish Kuncan's work from the more abstractcompositions favored by his contemporaries. Kuncan's landscape shows a solitary fisherman enjoying the quiet atmosphere surrounding a Buddhist temple. Air and light fill the painting, enhancing both the grandeur of the mountains and the peacefulness of thescene.

Kuncan, also known as Shiqi, is considered one of the four great monk painters of the 17th century. Born in Wuling in Hunan Province, he spent his youth studying the Confucian classics before becoming a Chan Buddhist monk. In 1638 he took the tonsure and traveled to Nanjing, where he studied with a disciple of the influential master Zhuhung (1535-1615). Living in Hunan Province at the time of the Manchu invasions of 1644-45, Kuncan spent three months in the wilderness, enduring many hardships. In 1654, he returned to Nanjing. In 1658 or 1659, he became the abbot of the Yuqi, a subtemple of the Bao'en monastery. He remained there until the end of his life, and scenes of this monastery and views of the surrounding area play an important roleinhis art.

The two groups of buildings located in the foreground and middle ground of this painting must represent some of the complexes at the Bao'en monastery, as they are similar to those in paintings known to depict the site. An eight-line poem inscribed at the top of the painting is dated 1661 and signed with Kuncan's pen name of Jieqiu, the 'Stone Daoist.' It states that the inscription was written at the Da Xie Hall, Kuncan's quarters in the Bao'en monastery, which also helps to identify this painting.

As is often the case with inscriptions by Kuncan, the poem eludes translation and is somewhat difficult to understand, but it reads: I walk on the worldly paths of famous mountains./ I follow the clouds before me with great regard./ Thevoid, the mist, and the mountains of Creation--/ high and lofty peaks, like watch towers with dignified majesty,/ arranged haphazardly like small bamboo,/ flying off to distant places like the immortals,/ join a multitude of valleys./ The gourd and therainhat are united as one. This poem can be understood as both a reference to Kuncan's earlier wanderings and as a metaphor of the Buddhist quest for enlightenment to which he dedicated his life.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 60.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd--Part II. New York: Asia Society, 1975, pp. 59, 99.
Related Document Description: Pegg, Richard. 'Kuncan (1612-1673): Man, Monk, and Painter.' Oriental Art
Related Document Description: Siren, Oswald. Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles, vol. 7, Annotated Lists of Paintings and Reproductions of Paintings by Chinese Artists. New York: Ronald Press, 1958, p. 365.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, cover, pp. 114, 115.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 98, 141.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.124
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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