Igarashi Shummei, Lao Zi, a hanging scroll painting

Edo period, 18th century AD

The 'aged child'

Lao Zi (Japanese: Rōshi) was one of the greatest philosophers of ancient China, and appeared frequently in Chinese and Japanese paintings. This is the most popular depiction: Lao Zi is seated on the blue ox that will carry him through the official border, out of the country and into Central Asia so that he can spread his philosophical teachings. Strange descriptions abounded regarding Lao Zi's physical appearance: he was supposed to have emerged from his mother's side after eighty-one years in the womb, already an old man with white hair (hence his name, literally 'aged child'). He was also said to have extraordinarily large ears. Both these characteristics can be seen here.

Igarashi Shummei (1700-1781) was from Echigo province (modern Niigata prefecture) on Japan's north coast, but moved first to Edo (modern Tokyo) where he trained as a painter under Kanō Ryōshin (1704-85). He also studied Tosa school works and the styles of Chinese ink painting of the Song dynasty (960-1278). For most of his career, however, he was active in Kyoto, where he studied Confucianism with Yamazaki Ansai (1618-82).

This work features bold, sharp brushwork on the figure of Lao Zi, with softer ink washes for the body of the ox, as well as a delicate use of colour on the robes and harnesses. The signature reads 'Hōgen Go Shummei' ('Go Shummei of hōgen rank'). The seals read 'Echi(?)' and 'Shummei'.

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Igarashi Shummei, Lao Zi, a hanging scroll painting

  • Detail: signature and seals

    Detail: signature and seals


More information


I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan-2, vol. 3 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1993)


Height: 438.000 mm
Width: 335.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP 718 (1913.5-1.0129)


Arthur Morrison Collection
Gift of Sir W. Gwynne-Evans, Bt.


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