Beggars and Street Characters

Beggars and Street Characters



Zhou Chen 周臣

(Chinese, c. 1450-c. 1536)

Handscroll, ink and light color on paper

Overall: 31.9 x 244.5 cm (12 9/16 x 96 1/4 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1964.94


Did you know?

Although Zhou Chen's original composition was an album of 24 figures, today it is mounted as two handscrolls, one in the Cleveland collection and one in the Honolulu Museum of Art.


This painting demonstrates Zhou Chen’s masterful skill in rendering impoverished people from his memories of figures in the street. It also bears an empathetic inscription to stir awareness of the poverty and suffering of the wretched souls.

Famine, natural disasters, rapidly expanding urbanization, and population growth may have increased the visibility and number of beggars, social outcasts, and street entertainers during the artist’s lifetime, something he mentions in the painting’s inscription.

This painting may depict a typical scene at the end of the lunar year, when a city’s less fortunate dressed up like ghosts and demons and performed exorcism dances in the streets to drive out threatening malevolent forces for a fresh start to the new year.

See also
ASIAN - Handscroll
Chinese Art
Type of artwork: 

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