The Sixth Patriarch of Zen at the Moment of Enlightenment
Kano Tan'yū (Japanese, 1602–1674)
Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 40 x 9 1/2 in. (101.6 x 24.1 cm)
Overall with mounting: 70 1/2 x 10 in. (179.1 x 25.4 cm)
Overall with rollers: W. 12 in. (30.5 cm)
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund, 2006
Not on view
This small image, executed with a few brushstrokes in light ink, is Kano Tan'yū's reiteration of a legendary painting of the early thirteenth century by the renowned Southern Song Chinese painter Liang Kai (now in the Tokyo National Museum). It illustrates a Zen parable regarding Hui-neng (638–713), the sixth patriarch of Zen (Chan in Chinese), who suddenly found enlightenment as he was about to split a bamboo branch for firewood.
Tan'yū, the leader of the Kano school painters in Edo, kept copious pictorial records of works that he examined. Here, while clearly inspired by Liang Kai's painting, he skillfully manipulated broad ink washes to indicate the upper and lower parts of the body and eliminated details, leaving much to the viewer's imagination. The painting bears an inscription by Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645), one of the most prominent Zen monks in Japan's history, referring to a single strike of a knife that vanquishes all thoughts. The large seal below the colophon belongs to the Tayasu family, the house of the ninth Tokugawa shogun Ieshige (1711–1761), indicating the painting's previous ownership.
Signature: At the lower right is the painter Tan'yū's signature, "Tan'yūsai hitsu" (Painted by Tan'yūsai), and his seal "Hōgen Tan'yū" (Tan'yū, holding the title of Hōgen).
Inscription: The painting was inscribed by Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645). The colophon reads:
One strike of a knife vanquishes all thoughts, Green jade of bamboo scattered over the earth, mountains, and rivers, Yet, there is enough left in front of Yasokuken To turn thousands of acres of land along the Wei river into desolation.
The colophon closes with Takuan's signature, reading "Takuan Sōrō dai;" below it is his seal "Sōhō."
Marking: The large seal below the colophon reads "Tayasufu Geidō In," indicating that the scroll was owned by the Tayasu family, the house of the ninth Tokugawa shogun Ieshige (1711–1761). Most likely, however, the seal belonged to Ieshige's younger brother Munetake (1715–1771), who was a noted poet and scholar.
Another collector's seal on the left, beneath the patriarch's figure possibly reads "Dokurō Toshoki."