Living Aloft: Master Liu's Retreat

Artist: Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559)

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: 1543

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 37 1/2 x 18 in. (95.3 x 45.7 cm)
Overall with mounting: 82 1/8 x 25 1/4 in. (208.6 x 64.1 cm)
Overall with knobs: 82 1/8 x 29 5/8 in. (208.6 x 75.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill, in honor of Wen C. Fong, 2015

Accession Number: 2017.327.2


Wen Zhengming painted Living Aloft for his friend Liu Lin (1474–1561), who, at the age of seventy, had retired from government service but had not yet built a home suitable for his new life. Wen's painting presents an idealized vision of life in retirement: separated from the outside world by a stream and a rustic wall, two friends enjoy each other's company in a two-story hall that is further isolated in a tall grove of trees. Wen elaborates on the pleasures of such a life in his accompanying poem:

Immortals have always delighted in pavilion-living,
Windows open on eight sides-eyebrows smiling.
Up above towers and halls well up,
Down below, clouds and thunder are vaguely sensed.
Reclining on a dais, a glimpse of Japan,
Leaning on a balustrade, the sight of Manchuria.
While worldly affairs shift and change,
In their midst a lofty man is at ease.

(After Ling-yün Shih Liu, trans., in Richard Edwards et al., The Art of Wen Cheng-ming [1470–1559] [Ann Arbor: Museum of Art, University of Michigan, 1976], p. 150)