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From the thirteenth through the fifteen centuries Zen monasteries were important centers of religious and cultural learning, but as a spiritual malaise gradually set in the painting and calligraphy traditions became formulaic. Through the leadership of monks such as Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) and Sengai Gibon (1750–1837), Zen art was revived during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Bold displays of ink with individualistic brushwork gave new forms to the traditional subjects of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of the Zen sect, and the ensô, the circle of enlightenment. Whimsical images of the popular Seven Gods of Good Fortune were also produced to be displayed in the homes of Zen laypeople.

On view in the second-floor Japanese galleries beginning October 1, 2008, "Zen Mind/Zen Brush: Japanese Ink Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection" features thirty-five hanging scrolls and screens from the collection of Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen of New Orleans, who were some of the first serious collectors of later Zen painting in the West.