Couplet in running script

Artist: Bada Shanren 八大山人 (朱耷) (1626-1705)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, ca. 1702
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
H x W (image, each): 140.8 x 30.4 cm (55 7/16 x 11 15/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scrolls (pair)

China, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), running script, Shao F. Wang collection

To 1997
Wang Fangyu (1913-1997), to 1997 [1]

To 1998
Shao F. Wang, New York and Short Hills, NJ, by descent, to 1998

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Shao F. Wang in 1998


[1] According to Curatorial Note 1, Joseph Chang and Stephen D. Allee, May 7, 1998, in the object record, and Curatorial Note 2, Joseph Chang and Stephen D. Allee, August 18, 1998, in the object record.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Shao F. Wang
Wang Fangyu 1913-1997


Books and pictures are themselves an Immortals' Chamber,
I view the Southern Capital as the Dipper and Mount Tai.

The exact meaning of these two poetic lines is elusive, and the current interpretation represents merely one of several possibilities. Line 1 refers to the Immortals' Chamber, an alternative name for the imperial library during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 C.E.). The building derived its name from the many texts on esoteric Daoism that were housed there. Bada may have used this allusion to enhance the definition of his own library, tushu (literally, books and pictures), mentioned earlier in the line. The first two characters in line 2, shandou, are an abbreviation for: Taishan (Mount Tai), easternmost of the five sacred mountains; and the constellation Beidou (Northern Dipper).  This abbreviation is used to describe a person whom others regard as a paragon. Later in the line, the term "Southern Capital" may refer to Bada's hometown of Nanchang, which was awarded this official designation under the kingdom of the Southern Tang (937-75).  In sum, the two lines may simply refer to Bada's own reclusive existence outside Nanchang in his later life, where he devoted himself to poetry and the visual arts and seldom left his library or studio.

Translation by Stephen D. Allee

Published References
  • Yuan Li. "近距离阅读大师." Exploring the Enigmas of Bada Shanren – Freer’s Special Exhibition Review., 284. Shanghai, May 2016. p. 68.
  • Joseph Chang, Quianshen Bai, (Catalogue) Stephen Allee. In Pursuit of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings and Calligraphy by Bada Shanren from the Bequest of Wang Fangyu and Sum Wai. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 30, pp. 134-135.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. p. 250, fig. 5.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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