Sheep and Goat

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Sheep and Goat (二羊圖)

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

Ink and colors on paper, 25.2 x 48.4 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

       Zhao Mengfu was the preeminent painter and calligrapher of the early Yuan dynasty, and one of the most versatile and subtle artists in the Chinese tradition. Balanced in mood and posture, the two animals turn their heads back toward each other to create an open but unified composition. In his inscription at the left of the painting, Zhao Mengfu states his motivation for creating this work: "I have painted horses before, but have never painted sheep [or goats]. So when Zhongxin requested a painting, I playfully drew these for him from life. Though I cannot get close to the ancient masters, I have managed somewhat to capture their essential spirit."

       The seals of several Ming and Qing dynasty collectors, especially those of the Qianlong emperor (reigned 1735–95), who once owned the scroll, are applied over much of the remaining paper. Borrowing vocabulary from an ancient poem about sheep, the emperor also provided the title frontispiece at right, which reads: "Divine likeness [of sheep] in motion and repose." 

Zhao Mengfu: Sheep and Goat