The Buddha Descending from the Mountain
Liang Kai was a court painter for the Southern Song dynasty of China. He was known for his skillful ability to paint meticulously with fine lines and intensely in a rough style. The central work shown here, Sakyamuni Descending from the Mountain, shows the founder of Buddhism as he returns after enduring ascetic practices deep in the mountains. Landscape in Snow on the left shows travelers passing through deep snow in the mountains. These three works were painted separately. The other snowy landscape, on the right, is thought to have been painted by a disciple of Liang Kai. After the paintings were brought to Japan and became the property of the Ashikaga clan, which established the Muromachi shogunate in the 14th century, they were combined into a set of three.
These paintings show the variety of Liang Kai’s style. The strong-willed face of Sakyamuni, while drawn and thin, is shown with sharply-glinting eyes and a firm expression. It is depicted carefully with a sense of depth. The travelers in the snowy mountains are also carefully portrayed, from their horses and hats to the gold fittings worn by the horses. In contrast, the dead tree in the background behind Sakyamuni is painted with strong and playful brushstrokes, while the snowy mountains towering behind the travelers are drawn in rough and scratchy lines. This masterpiece brings together precision and roughness, the two polar opposites of Liang Kai’s style.