Monk in a Red Robe

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Monk in a Red Robe (紅衣羅漢圖)

Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫, 1254-1322), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

Ink and colors on paper, 26 x 52 cm, Liaoning Provincial Museum

       This painting depicts a Buddhist holy man (the halo denotes his saintly status) cloaked in a brilliant red robe. The figure's blue eyes, dark complexion, thick beard, and hairy chest, as well as his gold earring, identify him as Indian or Central Asian. With the exception of his extended left hand, his body is concealed by a garment so simply rendered that the figure is reduced to a silhouette, the flat, patterned nature of which is reinforced by the landscape setting; the squareness of the textile upon which he sits and the rocks and tree, schematized like a stage set, suppress the illusion of three-dimensionality. The blue-and-green palette evokes an archaic style to which Zhao refers in a postscript added in 1320:

       This scroll, which I made seventeen years ago, roughly conveys a "spirit of antiquity" [guyi, 古意], but I don't know what viewers will make of it.

Zhao Mengfu: Monk in a Red Robe