In traditional Chinese cosmology, the tiger and the dragon are two of four creatures associated with the cardinal directions. The tiger is the emblem of the west, and the dragon, the east. In Zen Buddhism, however, the tiger came to be associated with the earthbound enlightened mind, and the dragon the soaring spirit of the freed satoric soul. Consequently, images of tigers and dragons are frequently encountered in Zen temples in Japan.
Although this masterful painting is signed, varying biographical accounts of three generations of artists who used the same name obscures the exact identity of the artist, Yamada Doan. Nevertheless, the vigorous brushwork here suggests that it was painted by the first Doan, active during the 1560s. Born to high-ranking warrior family, he became lord of Yamada castle in present-day Nara prefecture. At some point in his life, however, he became a Buddhist monk. Through this connection he would have been exposed to Zen culture, including ink painting.