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The Seven Junipers
Date: dated 1532
Artist: Wen Zhengming , 1470 - 1559
Dimensions: 1666.1a: 11 9/16 x 389 3/16 in. (29.3 x 988.5 cm) painting: 11 1/8 x 142 3/8 in. (28.3 x 361.6 cm) calligraphy: 11 1/8 x 33 7/8 in. (28.3 x 86 cm) calligraphy: 11 1/8 x 26 3/4 in. (28.3 x 68 cm) 1666.1b: 11 1/8 x 34 1/8 in. (28.3 x 86.7 cm)
Medium: ink on paper
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Carter Galt, 1952 (1666.1)
Geography: China
Description: One of the most renowned painters of the Ming dynasty, here Wen Zhenming depicts seven ancient juniper trees, planted on the grounds of a Daoist temple. The artist makes the most of the handscroll format by creating a monumental painting of meticulous calligraphic line and a range of layered ink tones. Compositionally, the trees expand in all directions beyond the page into space, their solid presence dominating the page. An evergreen tree, the juniper shares a symbolic association of vital longevity with the pine tree.
(2009)

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Wen Zhengming's depiction of The Seven Junipers is a great masterpiece of Ming dynasty painting. These ancient trees were originally planted in the year 500 A.D., on the grounds of a Daoist temple in Changshu, Jiangsu province. Old trees were a common theme in ancient Chinese painting, where they symbolized strength and perseverance. In the long inscription at the end of the painting, the artist compares the trees to dragons and cranes, both Daoist symbols of immortality.

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) was the leading artist of the Wu School. This handscroll, one of his masterpieces, depicts seven juniper trees, planted in the year 500 A.D., on the grounds of the Zhidao Guan, a Daoist temple in Changshu, Jiangsu province.
The seven trees were believed to be manifestations on earth of the seven stars of the Northern Dipper (the Big Dipper), the most powerful constellation in the Daoist heavens. In Wen Zhengming's day, only three of the seven original junipers survived; the others were replacements planted in the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126).

In this painting, the junipers interlock as their trunks and branches writhe across the surface of the paper. There is a remarkable concentration of twisting energy in the movement of the trees, and the composition is continually in flux. The poem inscribed by the artist as a colophon at the end of the scroll compares the trees to dragons and immortals. Wen's inscription on the painting itself reads, “On a summer day in the year renchen [1532], Zhengming copied the brush of Songxueweng [Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322].”
(SL 7/2006)

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Wen Zhengming was a literati artist from Suzhou. He studied painting with the master Shen Zhou. Known for his quiet and rather conservative nature, Wen Zhengming had a meticulous style in brush manner and composition. In this painting, Wen goes against tradition by painting a partial close-up of the trees instead of portraying them in a garden scene. The brushwork is also more forceful, emphasizing the twisted branches.

The subject here, the seven junipers, refers to seven trees originally planted in the year 500 CE on the grounds of a Daoist temple in Changshu, Jiangsu province. Four of the original trees died and were replanted around 1044. Looking carefully at the brushwork, one can see tonal contrasts between the trees. Three are painted with more saturated ink tones, possibly to give prominence to these original three trees, or as a reference to his master's painting of three junipers. In Wen's inscription at the end of the painting, he compares the trees to dragons and cranes, Daoist symbols of immortality.
(2005)
Inventory Number: 1666.1a