As a court official serving the last Joseon dynasty king, Yun Yong-gu was disheartened in 1910 when Korea became a colony of the Japanese Empire. Like the Ming dynasty loyalists of 17th-century China who renounced civil service with the founding of the foreign Manchu Qing dynasty in 1644, Yun left the public arena, retreated into retirement, and spent the rest of his life painting. In many ways, this landscape evokes the subtly coded defiance embedded in Ming loyalist paintings. Typically, the harmonious, idealized vision of nature depicted in East Asian landscape painting includes integral references to human figures and activity. In Yun’s composition, however, these motifs are conspicuously missing, an absence underscored, for example, by the empty footbridge, which normally would feature a wandering scholar enjoying the countryside. Even the faceted, crystalline cliff that serves as the background of this painting seems unbalanced at first glance, making it difficult to discern which way is up and which way is down. In the center of the work, as if inscribed on the cliff, Yun writes: “In the spirit of the ancients.” This melancholic remembrance hints at his sense of loss and withdrawal in the later years of his life when this undated work—which he has signed “retired scholar”—was presumably painted (see also Smart Museum object number 2007.142).