Chinese Literati Painting -- Page 12

    Shen Zhou, "Listening to the Cicadas"

"The Poet on the Mountaintop" celebrates the lone man in the midst of nature, remote from society.   But Shen Zhou's paintings, like many literati paintings, also celebrate friendship and the bonding between members of the literati class.  The painting below shows a literatus asleep in his countryside retreat, surrounded by the vibrations of locust calls, being visited by a friend.  The intermingling of natural patterns (such as the vibrating leaves) and human patters (such as the bamboo fencing) is a characteristic of much of Shen Zhou's work.  Again, there is a poem by Shen Zhou -- but this time, we see another tradition of literati painting, as it's a poem added by another literatus hundreds of years later.  Paintings, as tangible objects inscribing a person's character, were viewed as vehicles for communication long after the death of the painter, and owners of paintings frequently shared their responses to the painting by joining their work to the painter's on the silk or paper itself, or by inviting an admired poet or calligrapher to do so (thus increasing the monetary value of the painting!).  In this case, the latter day poet has employed the rhyme scheme of Shen Zhou's original poem to write his response, thus preserving in new form the Six Dynasties tradition of poetic interplay.

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