Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao Entering the Tiantai Mountains (劉晨阮肇入天臺山圖)
Zhao Cangyun (趙蒼雲, late 13th-early 14th c.), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)
Handscroll, ink on paper, 22.5 x 564.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Painted by a member of the Song royal family who lived through the Mongol conquest, this handscroll, which revives the monochrome drawing style of the scholar-artist Li Gonglin (李公麟, ca. 1041–1106), chronicles the legend of two men of the Han dynasty who stumble upon a magical realm of immortals. Returning home after what seemed like half a year, they discover that seven generations have come and gone and that they are alone in the world. The men's loss of home and paradise evokes the disorientation and alienation felt by many of the Chinese elite following the fall of the Song dynasty in 1279.
What little we know of the artist is contained in the colophons mounted after the painting. The first, by Hua Youwu (華幼武, 1307–after 1386), describes Zhao Cangyun as an artist known for "boneless" (without outlines) ink-wash landscapes and delicate figure paintings. Hua also states that the artist was more famous in his youth than his fellow clansmen Zhao Mengjian (趙孟堅, 1199–before 1267) and Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫, 1254–1322). As Zhao Cangyun withdrew to the mountains and lived as a recluse, never marrying or serving as an official, no documentation, except this scroll, survives.