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Gibbons in a Landscape

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The gibbon, native to the forested mountains of southern China, is known in Japan through painting and poetry. Its cry is associated in poetry with the elevated spirit of solitude and in Daoist lore with a superior life force. Japanese Zen monks treasured gibbons painted by the Chinese monk Muqi (active ca. 1245). By the late fifteenth century, paintings of gibbons in the manner of Muqi had become a favored subject for screen decoration. Here the image of a chain of gibbons reaching futilely for a reflection of the moon, a symbol of enlightenment, illustrates a fundamental Zen paradox.

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