Seldom Seen

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Third week of May
Week 3
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Unknown (Chinese)
Guanyin and her Attendant
Qing Dynasty, ca. 18th century,
after Tang Dynasty original by Wu Daozi (d. 792)
Ink and pigments on silk
Collection of Museum of Fine Arts-Washington County
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Vincent Tack, 1946

This tranquil, contemplative painting by an unknown Chinese artist depicts Guanyin (Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara), the bodhisattva of infinite compassion who is among the most popular figures of Buddhism. She floats on a cloud-shaped rock and crosses her hands in a gesture of devotion. In the Buddhist faith, bodhisattvas (Sanskrit: awakening beings) are divine entities on the path to becoming Buddhas and who assist living beings in attaining nirvana (enlightenment). Guanyin, portrayed as a life-size figure, is dressed in a graceful, flowing blue robe that is embellished with gold folds and black embroideries along its edges. According to Chinese Buddhist tradition, her acolyte, the boy Shancai (lower left), came to visit her while she was meditating on Mount Putuo, a sacred island located near Hangzhou Bay. Shancai is shown standing atop a lotus petal (a sacred flower in Buddhism) while a white dove gracefully carries a rosary used for supplication (Sanskrit: Japamala or prayer beads). Both figures are adorned with elaborate blue and gold halos that accentuate their holy status.

Scroll paintings like this example were often hung in Buddhist temples and used to assist worshipers during rituals and prayer. Guanyin and her Attendant was once displayed in a Buddhist temple in the city of Chengde (Hebei, Province, China), to which it was presented by the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799). As indicated by the Chinese characters on the plaque to the lower right, the original composition for this Qing Dynasty painting was created by Wu Daozi (d. 792 CE), a renowned Tang Dynasty painter. In the 8th century CE, Wu executed an engraved stele of Guanyin (now lost) that was greatly admired. In subsequent centuries, Chinese and Japanese artists created engravings on paper and scroll paintings like Guanyin and her Attendant that were based upon the Tang master’s work.

In 1946, American painter Augustus Vincent Tack and his wife, Agnes Gordon Fuller, donated this painting to the Museum of Fine Arts-Washington County in order to help expand its holdings of Asian art. Tack is renowned for his portraits and avant-garde abstract paintings. His chief patron was Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection (Washington, DC).

Second week of May
0970_57.0012a (2)

0970_57.0012a (3)
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Unknown (French, ca. mid-15th century)
Leaf from a Book of Hours, ca. 1440
Psalm 109 with antiphons and responses
Pigments, ink, and gold leaf on vellum
Collection of Museum of Fine Arts-Washington County
Gift of William T. Hassett, Jr., 1957

Highly prized by noble patrons who commissioned such volumes, books of hours were an integral part of private devotion in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Typically, they included psalms, prayers, offices of the Virgin and other saints, calendars of feast days, and prayers for the dead. Essentially, they provided worshipers with an extensive sacred compendium that could aid them in performing their daily prayers and engaging in most forms of pious practice. This leaf displays an outstanding level of detail and artistry on the part of the scribe and illuminator who collaborated to produce it. Of particular note are the Latin texts completed in black and red ink as well as paint which display antiphons (a short sung refrain or chant) and responses. On the verso, a large initial D is painted in blue and white against a red and gilded outline frame with foliate interlace. The whole of its margin is bordered by fine vegetal scrolls embellished with black ink stems, multicolor gilt leaves, and flowers that emerge above from the upper serif of the D.

First week of May

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Yue Yang (Chinese, active ca. late 18th-early 19th century)
Landscape with Mountains and Valley, Qing Dynasty, December 1774
(December in the First Year of the Horse, Chinese lunar calendar)
India ink on silk, Collection of Museum of Fine Arts-Washington County
Gift of Dr. James R. Duke, 2000

Drawing extensively upon a tradition of painting that dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Yue Yang emulated the methods and style of a specific painter whose work he admired, that of Wang Hui (Shigu, 1632-1717). A pivotal figure in the art of the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Wang was one of the four members of his family who dominated the genre of landscape, exerted a considerable impact on this type of painting’s development, and strongly encouraged the copying of earlier masterworks. Yang paid tribute to his predecessor by incorporating an array of his techniques into his work, most notably the use of atmospheric perspective rising above the mountains and water, cascades, craggy rocks, and gnarled trees.

In this ambitious, poetic panorama, Yang employed a broad, horizontal composition and focused on the vastness and expansiveness of the valley, mountains, rolling hills, and rugged terrain, all of which are executed in black ink and juxtaposed with the simple background. Like other images of this type, Landscape with Mountains and Valley represents several episodes or recollections of the artist at one time. On the upper left, a boat with three travelers is approaching a gate to a house nestled on a hill. Meanwhile, on the right, two figures gather in a pavilion adjoining a stream and waterfall and are dwarfed by their surroundings. This image exudes a simultaneous sense of nostalgia, grandeur, and passion for nature in its dreamy and expansive composition. The Chinese characters written on this painting provide insight into its contents and contain a date, poem, and dedication authored by the artist:

Inspired to have a daytrip to explore the quiet nature,
Climbed the difficult path to ridges,
Waded across valley streams,
Observed the forest ‘midst clouds and thousands of miles of mountains.
December, First Year of Horse,
Sketched using Shigu’s Method,
For my dear friend Mozhai,
By Yang Yue (Yin Tang).