Painting by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died ca. 1640)
Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (Japanese, 1579–1638)
Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 35 1/4 x 14 3/16 in. (89.5 x 36 cm)
Collection of Peggy and Richard M. Danziger
Not on view
uki-shizumi nami no makai ni kakururu mo miyuru mo onaji nio no kayoiji
Bobbing up and down amid the waves, the grebe makes its way, indifferent as to whether it is seen or hidden.
—Trans. John T. Carpenter
Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s painting of waterfowl in flight is accompanied by a poem by the celebrated calligrapher Karasumaru Mitsuhiro on the theme of grebe (nio, or kaitsuburi) amid waves. The poem makes the grebe—sometimes seen and honored, sometime invisible and neglected—in the roiling sea a metaphor for the life of a courtier, or perhaps even the emperor, in a society dictated by the shogunate.
Although not included among the Three Brushes of the Kan’ei Era, referring to the great calligraphers of the early seventeenth century, Mitsuhiro arguably should be granted honorary status as the “fourth brush.” Active in the same tea circles, he was best known for his cursive kana calligraphy. He studied waka under the famous literary scholar and cultural arbiter Hosokawa Yūsai, and also established a reputation as a poet. The style of his calligraphy, like Kōetsu’s, harkens back to classical court models but at the same time partakes of a Zen-inspired eccentricity.