Past Exhibitions


Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art

Fri, 07/07/2006 - 20:00 -- wds
Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art
July 8, 2006—April 8, 2007 Arthur M. Sackler Museum

Yi Ha-ŭng, Orchids and Rocks, Korean; Chosŏn dynasty, 1896–98, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

Inspired by the beauty and resilience of nature’s flora, East Asian poets and artists have imbued a variety of plants and flowers with auspicious meanings, literary resonances, and moral overtones. For example, the plum blossom, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo are popularly known as the “Four Gentlemen,” for each is said to embody a noble virtue of the ideal Confucian gentleman-scholar. Because they survive the harsh winter months, the pine, bamboo, and Chinese plum (Prunus mume) symbolize strength in the face of adversity and are referred to as the “Three Friends of Winter” in Chinese art and literature. In addition to these plants with literati connotations, flowers associated with the four seasons and twelve months are also pervasive themes in the art of East Asia. This exhibition presents a selection of works that feature popular botanical themes and symbols as their principal subjects and includes a number of recent acquisitions exhibited for the first time. Organized by the curators of the Department of Asian Art.