Scroll Painting

About this object


The scroll is signed Mingzhong, however the work has not been authenticated and could be a copy made by a later artist. Signature: [missing]/丙申/元年/[missing]/僧/明中/敬繪. Translation: Respectfully painted by Monk MingZhong in the (?month) of the bingshen-year, which is the first year of (?). The signature is accompanied by two small seals: seal in intaglio: 明 (ming); seal in relief: 中 (zhong).

Iconographic meaning

This handscroll depicts several Luohan (羅漢, Arhat in Sanskrit) crossing the sea. Luohan are followers of Gautama Buddha (the historical Buddha, also Shakyamuni) who have reached enlightenment (nirvana) and are protecting the Buddhist faith on earth. Different numbers of Luohan have been the subject of Chinese painting and sculpture throughout the centuries, such as the 500 Luohan (五百羅漢), or Eighteen Luohan (十八羅漢). The subject of Luohans crossing the sea appears frequently in painting, with many Ming dynasty and later works bearing a (spurious) signature or attribution to the Northern Song painter Li Gonglin (李公麟,1049–1106) or early Yuan dynasty painter Qian Xuan (錢選,1235-1305). In this scroll, there might be a combination of Buddhist and Daoist iconography. The scroll begins on land, showing two figures with a group of demons. One figure in official’s robe and headdress holds an official tablet and is accompanied by a tiger. The other figure is wearing a military uniform and headgear. The remaining section depicts several Luohans on their way across the ocean waves; some of them can be identified by their attributes. They are accompanied by a variety of smaller figures and use different means of transportation, including sea creatures (turtles, fish, crab etc.) This procession of Luohan is greeted by a figure in an official’s robe, holding an official’s tablet, and wearing a weird form of headgear that identifies him as the Dragon King (Longwang龍王). The Dragon King is a deity in Daoism and Buddhism; he reigns over the sea (and water more generally) and its creatures, and is also responsible for rain. The Dragon King is accompanied by a female figure and an entourage of demons. The last section of the handscroll, which is visually separated from the previous parts by clouds, shows four figures, presumably three monks or more Luohans, and Buddha Shakyamuni (Gautama).

Physical description

Very long, horizontal scroll with line drawing in ink (baimiao 白描) of figures in an ocean scene, on brown paper. This handscroll depicts several Luohan crossing the sea. Men, women, sea creatures, dragons, demons and Buddha emerge from the waves and whitecaps of the continuous drawing. Some figures are richly dressed, others ragged and emaciated, carrying a variety of objects from fishing lines to bottles. The far right of the drawing takes place on land, showing a robed man surrounded by a tiger, warrior and demons. Red seals are stamped at each end of the painting. The work is mounted on silk fronted paper in cream colour, edged in dark yellow. A panel of mottled orange sits on the far right of the painting as well as a small panel of decorative, protective fabric on the underside. Wooden dowels are attached at each end of the piece, and a blue string with a jade button is sewn to the right dowel. The artist’s signature appears at the end of the scroll, and there is another square seal with four characters following these small seals, but it is not clear. Two more seals are in the lower left corner.