left scroll, painting proper Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Bunchō was fond of pictorializing "Ode to the Red Cliff," a pair of poems by Chinese scholar-poet Su Shi (1037–1101). In the first poem, set in the seventh month, Su Shi rides in a boat with friends past the Red Cliff, drinking wine along the way. One of his companions plays a sad tune on the flute, reminding the group of the historical Battle of the Red Cliff (208 CE). They ruminate on the impermanent nature of the deeds of men. Inspired by the moonlit setting, Su ends the poem by praising the limitless potential of nature to catalyze human creativity.

In the second ode, set in the tenth month, Su marvels at the transformation of the site in winter snow. Later he dreams of two immortals in feathered robes and realizes that a soaring crane he had seen earlier that evening was in fact one of them. Bunchō differentiates the setting of the two poems with summer (right) and winter (left) foliage and uses short "axe-cut" strokes to render the cliff face. The legible spatial recession was conditioned by his study of a famous pair of landscapes by the Chinese Academy painter Li Tang (c. 1070–1150), which he viewed at Kyoto’s Kōtō-in temple in 1796. This diptych stands out as a rare example of Bunchō’s work from the last decade of the 18th century, long regarded as the height of his artistry.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Ode to the Red Cliff
Work Type
painting, hanging scroll
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Edo period, 1615-1868
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3610, University Teaching Gallery
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Physical Descriptions
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light color on silk
image only: 114.7 x 55.1 cm (45 3/16 x 21 11/16 in.)
with mount: 211 x 72.9 cm (83 1/16 x 28 11/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • seal: both paintings: Bunchō (
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Exhibition History

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/14/2020 - 07/18/2021

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu