Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

BSeikō (Rikō) (Japnese, fl. 2nd half of 16th century) The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (detail) Japan Muromachi period (1392–1573) Hanging scroll; ink on paper 12 1/4 x 21 1/8 in. (31.2 x 53.7 cm) Property of Mary Griggs Burke Photo: Bruce Schwarz, courtesy Mary Griggs Burke

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of Chinese learned men from the third century CE. During a time of political upheaval, the group distanced themselves from governmental service, choosing instead to spend time engaged in Daoist-inspired discussions, poetry, and music, sometimes while inebriated. At least one member of the group abandoned his government position after becoming disheartened by corruption, and the group as a whole became associated with retreat from public life.

References to the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove are abundant in Chinese and Japanese art and literature. The earliest extant visual representations of the group date to the fifth century CE. Over time the theme gained popularity in Chinese painting and decorative arts, particularly from the late Ming (1368–1644) through the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). In Japan, the motif of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grovewas known as early as the ninth century. It was widely represented in Japanese art from the sixteenth century to the Edo period (1615–1868).

Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, featuring traditional works of art from China and Japan, has been organized to accompany and provide some cultural context for Asia Society’s exhibition of Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, the contemporary video work by Chinese artist Yang Fudong.

View the online exhibition for Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.