Painting and calligraphy by Zen monks has a long history in Japan. Introduced from China in the twefth century, Zen (meaning “meditation”) has its origins in the teachings of the Buddha, the sixth-century BCE Indian prince who taught that it was possible to be freed from suffering and the cycles of rebirth.

The paintings and works of calligraphy on view were created by Zen masters during the Edo period (1615–1868). The most influential of these, Hakuin Ekaku (168–1769), is credited with creating a new visual language for Zen, by dramatically expanding its subjects and themes to include Shinto gods, Confucian maxims, Japanese legend, folklore, and scenes from everyday life. Hakuin’s immediate followers, along with later generations of Zen masters, have drawn on this rich visual vocabulary to the present day.

Hotei in the Guise of a Street Performer, mid-18th c.

Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768)

Ink on paper

Museum purchase: Asian Art De-Accession Fund

Daruma Looking Right

Nakahara Nantenbo (1839–1925)

Ink on paper

Gift of Kurt A. Gitter, M.D. and Alice Rae Yelen

Procession of Monks

Kogan Gengei (1747-1821)

Ink on paper

Museum purchase

Portrait of Ingen



Ink and color on silk

Gift of Kurt A. Gitter, MD, and Millie H. Gitter in memory of N. V. Hammer