Ni Zan(knee dzahn) (Chinese: 倪瓚; 1301–1374) was a Chinese painter during the Yuan(yoo-en) and early Ming dynasties. Along with Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen(woo juhn), and Wang Meng, he is one of the Four Masters of the Yuan dynastya series of rulers from a single family..
Bamboo has been depicted in Chinese painting for more than a thousand years. Along with the pine and the plum, bamboo is a member of the Three Friends of Winter due to its ability to bear the harshest of winters. It is also one of the Four Gentlemen (the other three being the plum, the orchid, and the chrysanthemum) due to the moral virtues it represents. The hollowness of the bamboo stalk symbolizes tolerance and open-mindedness, and its flexibility and strength signify the human values of cultivation and integritythe quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.: one yields but does not break. All of these virtues make bamboo a very popular subject in Chinese painting, especially among scholar–artists.
The poet Qian Weishan(chee-en way-shahn) (act. 1341–ca. 1379) added a few brief lines of poetry in the upper left corner of the painting to honor Ni Zan after his death:
My old friend knew how to sketch bamboo,
And patterned his approach upon Wen Tong [eleventh-century painter]. Calmly he looked out the western window,
And the cool wind filled his page with fall.
—Translation by Stephen D. Allee
This type of poem, called jueju or Chinese quatrain, is a type of jintishi (“modern form poetry”) that grew popular among Chinese poets in the Tang(tahng) dynasty (618–907), although it is traceable to earlier origins. Jueju poems are always quatrains—or, more specifically, they are always a matched pair of couplets, with each line consisting of either five or seven syllables.