In the Chinese popular imagination, mendicant monks, conjurers, and mysterious hermits were often thought to be disguised “living luohans,” or Buddhist holy men capable of producing miracles. When government corruption and ineptitude imperiled social order, as it did in late Ming times, such superstitious messianic beliefs became more widespread. Here, in one of his earliest extant works, Wu Bin embraced an archaic figure style and followed the tradition of depicting luohans as fantastic eccentrics whose grotesque features belie their inner spiritual nature. Wu’s humorous painting may have had a serious message: holiness can be concealed within an outwardly incongruous form.
The Sixteen Luohans. Artist: Wu Bin, 1591, China. Handscroll; ink and color on paper © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image: 12 5/8 x 163 9/16 in. (32.1 x 415.4 cm) Overall with mounting: 13 1/4 x 398 1/16 in. (33.7 x 1011.1 cm)