Art of the Iron Brush: Bamboo Carvings from the Ming and Ching Dynasties

Why We Recommend it

Appreciate up-close the ancient art of bamboo carving which produced brush pots, wrist rests, miniature landscapes, figurines created with the ‘iron brush’ ’—a term for knives and other carving tools used by literati to transfer their brushwork aesthetic to media such as boxwood, rhinoceros’ horns and ivory.


Durable, flexible and abundant in nature, bamboo has been used as a material and a subject in Chinese art for millennia. At first woven into baskets, containers and other everyday objects during the Neolithic period, over successive centuries bamboo came to be used in increasingly sophisticated ways, at the same time attaining numerous symbolic meanings. Because it bends in a storm but does not break, it was particularly associated with the integrity and personal virtue of the scholarly elite, who embraced its symbolic value by producing, acquiring and displaying delicate bamboo objects suitable for various scholarly pursuits, such as painting and calligraphy.

During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), scholarly and imperial patronage transformed bamboo carving into a major art form. Scholar-carvers and workshops centred around Jiading (in present-day Shanghai) and Jinling (now Nanjing) produced large numbers of both art and quotidian objects. Many bamboo carvers also worked in other materials soft enough to be manipulated with, which shared a kind of loose identity under the heading of diaoke (‘carving’ in modern Chinese). Small in scale yet teeming with life, these works reflect prodigious technical skill and great imaginary involvement because of the unique shapes and contortions of the materials involved.


When: 17 Apr 2019 - 28 Jul 2019 Where: University Museum and Art Gallery – 90 Bonham Road – Pokfulam