May 5, 2010
Mar 3, 2004
May 5, 2010
May 5, 2010

Old Trees by a Wintry Brook

Old Trees by a Wintry Brook



Wen Zhengming 文徵明

(Chinese, 1470–1559)

China, Ming dynasty


Hanging scroll, ink and light color on paper

Image: 114.3 x 47 cm (45 x 18 1/2 in.)

Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.102



Wen Zhengming was one of the most celebrated calligraphers and painters during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). His inscription, gracefully written in small characters on the upper left corner, reveals Wen’s emotional mood at that moment of creation.

"In the fifteenth day of the fifth month, the year of xinhai [1551], [I], Zhengming, playfully write this Old Trees by a Wintry Brook at eighty-two [sui]."

How should we understand a wintery landscape painted in the middle of spring? Was it simply inspired by a surprisingly late spring snow? Or can it be that the “wintery” brook reflects the octogenarian’s feelings about aging and his inevitable, approaching mortality? The junipers’ gnarled forms are a poignant symbol of aging and suffering, yet the ink-dot leaves on some branches suggest that the trees are still alive, awaiting the warmth of spring.

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