FROM A NEW ENGLAND PRIVATE COLLECTION
The end of the Ming dynasty was fraught with societal upheavals as a result of governmental decline. People turned to the Buddhist promise of salvation to escape the torments of earthly life. As a devoted lay Buddhist, Ding Yunpeng most often depicted Buddhist figures such as luohans or arhats, spiritually advanced disciples of Shakyamuni. His earlier paintings typically used meticulous fine-line techniques generally associated with Song and earlier works. With wide acceptance from the public and Emperor Wanli’s patronage, an expressionist style arose in Buddhist painting. Ding Yunpeng stood at the forefront of this development during the latter half of his artistic career, after he simplified his earlier fine-line style. While less detailed, Ding’s later figures tended to appear more dramatic and lively, eventually becoming eccentric and caricatured. His contemporary, Sheng Maoye, was a native Suzhou painter from a family of artists. He was particularly interested in creating highly atmospheric effects such as from mists and clouds in his landscapes, in order to evoke the characteristics of Song painting.
As both Ding Yunpeng and Sheng Maoye resided in Suzhou for some periods in their lives, they collaborated on a number of paintings. In the collection of the Kyoto National Museum, Five Hundred Arhats painted by Ding Yunpeng and Sheng Maoye, is an example similar to Luohans. With his brush, Ding Yunpeng was able to portray the luohans with personality in contrast with earlier religious works which looked more impersonal and ethereal. The scenery is serene and atmospheric, while the luohans’ robes add lively hues of reds, ochres and subtle blues.