Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Competition Between Poets of Different Eras (Jidai fudō uta awase), depicting the poet Minamoto no Hitoshi

Calligraphy attributed to Fujiwara no Nobuzane (Japanese, 1176–1265)
Kamakura period (1185–1333)
13th century
Section of a handscroll mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (29.8 x 19.1 cm) Overall: 57 1/2 x 17 7/8in. (146.1 x 45.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
This hanging scroll illustrates part of an imaginary poetry competition among fifty poets from the past. The selection of poems from old anthologies and their arrangement into "competing" pairs is traditionally attributed to Emperor Gotoba (1180–1236), perhaps Japanese poetry's greatest patron. The Metropolitan's painting shows the sixty-first round, which pits Minamoto no Hitoshi (880–951) against the Lady Ichinomiya Kii (d. ca. 1113). The first of three poetry exchanges is recorded in a soft broad hand above a portrait of the male poet:
Why is it
that love persists
when deeply hidden, as
a field overgrown in bamboo grass
at midday?
Ichinomiya Kii replies:
The fields of bush clover at Mano
are tangled and tossed
in the autumn wind;
for the dew that clings to its blossoms
there is no repose.
The rest of this fictional exchange and the portrait of Ichinomiya Kii are on a separate hanging scroll now in a private collection in Japan. Several other segments from this version of the Jidaifudo utaawase exist, including one in the Tokyo National Museum. Simple ink portraits of famous poets paired with their most well known works were extremely popular in the Kamakura period. The portraits follow the conventions of their time: a person seated in a stylized three-quarter or profile view, with flattened robes emphasizing social ranking, and all individual expression reserved for the face. The playful figures in these scrolls are fanciful re-creations of cultural heroes and heroines, a unique group immortalized within the intimate lines of their poetry.
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