The Great Ultimate

Wu Wei

The Palace Museum

The Palace Museum

An immortal is depicted standing under a tree and unfolding a scroll featuring Taiji, or the Great Ultimate (also translated as the Supreme Ultimate), which is represented by a full circle with radiating ink washes alluding to the primal chaos. The mysterious smile on the immortal's face probably suggests his understanding of the Great Ultimate through mediation. The slightly bald immortal is portrayed in a humorous and vivid way with squinting eyes, a bulbous nose, and lips that curve upwards.
The painter took painstaking effort to depict the immortal's face, while the draperies, trousers, and shoes are only suggested with a few brush strokes. His paintings are a development based on Liang Kai's abbreviated-brush figure paintings. The background trees and rocks are conveyed with tapering brushstrokes and ink wash; these features show clear influences by the style of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui. It is recorded that Wu Wei was famous for his indulgence in drinking and unrestrained conduct. Once when received by the emperor, he overturned the ink and improvised a painting called Pine and Wind. The background trees and rocks, minimal composition, brush strokes resembling the cursive script, and unrestrained use of ink are all in accordance with the description concerning Wu Wei's painting style in historical records.
The painter's signature in the lower left corner reads Little Immortal (Xiaoxian, the style name of Wu Wei) and affixed his personal seal "Little Immortal Wu Wei," which was carved in relief. According to The Calligraphy and Painting Record of the Studio of Sealing the Books (Qianshu tang shuhua ji) by Wen Jia, the painting was once in the collection of the Ming official Yan Song (1480-1565).

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  • Title: The Great Ultimate
  • Creator: Wu Wei (1459-1508)
  • Physical Dimensions: hanging scroll height:138.6 cm, length: 81 cm
  • Type: painting
  • Medium: ink and color on silk