Li Kan was a northern Chinese who entered the service of the Mongol government in an early period of his life and rose to a high position in the Yuan court. The author of an authoritative treatise on bamboo painting, Li asserted that the painter must possess "the complete bamboo in [his] breast," and he urged the statesman to take up bamboo painting to discipline his mind and expand his breadth of vision.
Li completed these panels in 1318, the year the Mongol regime reinstituted the civil service examinations, the chief means through which scholars gained access to official positions. The painting is done in the "shuangou" (double outline) style. This technique, in which finely drawn ink outlines are filled in with dense mineral pigments, was ideally suited to Li's intense identification with bamboo. Minutely observed and intricately rendered, these noble plants impart a heightened sense of reality that approaches portraiture.
Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), dated 1318
Text and details derived from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.