Despite the renown of the Rinpa artist Sōtatsu (died ca. 1640), to whom a large number of stunningly beautiful paintings are attributed, he remains an elusive figure. Nothing is known of his background—except that his family name may have been Nonomura—or his early training. One letter written by him and occasional references to him or to his paintings by court nobles, essayists, artists, a tea master, and a novelist are the only documents that tell us anything about his life.
According to a genealogical chart in the possession of the Kataoka family, Sōtatsu married a cousin of Hon'ami Kōetsu (cat. nos. 83–85). He became the proprietor of a shop in Kyoto called Tawaraya, probably one of the many specialty shops mentioned in Momoyama literature that made and sold a variety of painted objects—fans, lantern paper, seashells for games, shikishi, and tanzaku. They also made screens and dolls, designed patterns for kimonos, and took commissions for decorating residential interiors.
The earliest paintings attributed to Sōtatsu are the frontispieces and covers he made in 1602 as replacements for three scrolls of the Heike nōkyō, a set of twelfth-century sutras at the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima in the Inland Sea. These six modest works reveal features characteristic of Sōtatsu's later paintings. They are without human figures and are limited to five landscapes and a design with a single deer. The landscape motifs are dramatically stylized abstract patterns, which later became a hallmark of the Rinpa school. And there is an emphasis on surface decoration, created by limiting the palette to gold and silver.
The famous collaboration between Sōtatsu and the calligrapher Kōetsu seems to have begun a few years later. About 1606, Suminokura Sōan (1571–1632) launched the Sagabon (Saga Books), an ambitious project to publish handsome editions of classical literature. Sōtatsu decorated the paper to be used for the book covers and the texts with stamped designs, and Kōetsu and other calligraphers transcribed the text to be carved on wood stamps and then printed. After the Sagabon project, the two men collaborated on many other works (cat. nos. 83, 84). Sōtatsu had an important but secondary role in these projects, for paper designs were then viewed primarily as backgrounds for the calligraphy. With the exception of the well-known Deer Scroll, the motifs are limited to flowers and birds, usually seen at close range. Gold and silver predominate, with occasional touches of color, and some of the designs are stamped. None of the papers includes Sōtatsu's signature, but a few show a seal reading "Inen," a name that has come to be associated with the artist and his shop, Tawaraya.
During the early years of the seventeenth century, the shop established a reputation for artistic excellence among cultivated and wealthy connoisseurs in Kyoto, and soon Sōtatsu was moving in such elevated circles that he was able to invite a leading tea master, Sen Shōan (1546–1614), to his own chanoyu. Kōetsu moved to Takagamine, on the outskirts of Kyoto, in 1615, but the collaboration between the two artists seems to have continued until about 1620, when Sōtatsu was recognized in his own right as a major painter. Sōtatsu was given the honorary title hokkyō, awarded to the master of a school or shop, probably after he had decorated the doors and screens for Yogen'in, a temple in Kyoto rebuilt in 1621 by order of the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada (r. 1605–23), the second Tokugawa shogun. On the large door panels at the temple, he painted pine trees and exotic animals—elephants, lions, and mythical beasts. Human figures do not appear in his oeuvre until much later.
The earliest known reference to a narrative painting associated with Sōtatsu occurs in the Chikusai (1621–23), a humorous tale about a country doctor who visits Kyoto and Edo as a tourist. Isoda Michiharu, to whom the novel is attributed, mentions a Tawaraya fan painted in brilliant colors with episodes from the Genji monogatari. Sōtatsu relied exclusively on narrative themes drawn from classical literature as sources for his figure paintings, and the most innovative aspect of his work is the reuse, in a totally new context, of pictorial elements borrowed from ancient handscrolls. Sōtatsu's interest in classical themes and in the native yamato-e style may have been stimulated by his association with Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (1579–1638), an eccentric and highly cultivated court noble well known for his interest in classical literature, who is said to have studied calligraphy with Kōetsu. That Sōtatsu and Mitsuhiro worked together is documented in a colophon of 1630 attached to a set of scrolls with a painting of the priest Saigyo (1118–1190; see cat. no. 79). The set is now dispersed among the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, and other collections. In the colophon Mitsuhiro attests that he wrote the text for the handscrolls, that Sōtatsu painted the pictures, and that their model was a set of Saigyō scrolls in the Imperial Collection.
Sōtatsu's reputation reached its height about 1630, after he had painted screens for Emperor Go-Mizunoo (r. 1611–29). The artist's death is not recorded, but he probably died about 1640; the title hokkyō was traditionally passed on to a successor when the master died, and sometime between 1639 and 1642 it was inherited by an artist named Sōsetsu (fl. 1639–50).
This small polychrome album leaf illustrates an episode from the tenth-century Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise), which ranks with the Genji monogatari as one of Japan's great literary classics. The tale is composed of poems interspersed with narrative vignettes in prose that describe the travels in Japan of a gentleman identified only as "a man." Most of the verses are love poems exchanged between the anonymous hero and various ladies whom he encounters. The scene represented here illustrates an episode in chapter 9 that recounts a journey to eastern Japan. The passage, known as "Utsu no yama" (Mount Utsu), includes the poem that is inscribed on the painting:
Utsu no yamabe no
utsutsu nimo yume nimo
hito ni awanu narikeri
Beside Mount Utsu
I can see you
nor, alas, even in my dreams.
The painting still preserves almost all the original pigments—red, brown, gold, and brilliant greens and blues. Rocks and hills, painted without ink outlines, are soft, round forms characteristic of Sōtatsu. A zigzag path, the defining element in the composition, is emphasized by the placement of a figure at each of three sharp bends. A triangular area of plain gold overwritten with fluid calligraphic lines at the upper right serves to counterbalance the massive horse and the attendant at the lower left. Carrying a wood box on his back, the wandering ascetic is seen walking away from the courtier after their encounter.
Forty-seven shikishi illustrating episodes from the Ise monogatari and attributed to Sōtatsu and members of his studio are known today. All but five include a short poem. Most likely, they were originally pasted in an album. They may, however, have belonged to two different sets of illustrations, as two of them have identical compositions, though only one is accompanied by text. When some of the shikishi were remounted and the paper backing was removed, seventeen names of calligraphers were discovered, including that of Takeuchi Toshiharu (1611–1647), the name on the leaf in the Burke Collection. The biographical records of the calligraphers indicate that the shikishi were worked on in 1634 and again sometime between 1648 and 1651.
The Ise monogatari was a popular subject for the artists of the later Rinpa school (see pages 308–9). Illustrations were already common in the eleventh century, and they are mentioned in the "E-awase" (Picture Competition) chapter of the Genji monogatari, though none from the Heian period has survived. The earliest extant examples are a few fragments from the Kamakura period. The printed editions of the Ise monogatari published in the seventeenth century as part of the Sagabon project (see cat. no. 83) include the earliest complete sets; we know, however, that a late Kamakura handscroll was still complete in 1838, when seven Kano artists collaborated in copying it. The copy, now in the Tokyo National Museum, preserves the complete text and all the pictures of the lost original, as well as the colophon added to the scroll in 1636 by Karasumaru Mitsuhiro, the court noble who frequently collaborated with Sōtatsu. Mitsuhiro states in the colophon that he examined the original in 1636, and he dates the scroll to the late Kamakura period. In view of the fact that the illustrations in the Sagabon edition are distinctly different from those in the nineteenth-century copy of the Kamakura scroll, it is clear that there were at least two traditions for the Ise pictures.
It is possible that when Mitsuhiro examined the Kamakura scroll, Sōtatsu copied the pictures and later adapted them for his own Ise compositions. Some leaves from the group of forty-seven clearly derive from the Kamakura compositions; others are related to the Sagabon illustrations. The episode illustrated in the Burke shikishi is modeled after the Sagabon version, with slight changes in the poses of the three figures inspired by earlier emaki. Sōtatsu's composition became very popular with many later Rinpa artists—among them Ogata Korin (cat. nos. 132, 133), Fukae Roshū (1699–1757), and Sakai Hōitsu (cat. no. 134).
The "Utsu no yama" shikishi in the Burke Collection is regarded as one of the finest of the forty-seven Ise leaves. It is therefore most likely by the master himself.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 See Yamane Yūzo 1962b, pp. 238–50; Murase 1973, pp. 52–54; and Link and Shinbo Tōru 1980, pp. 22–30.
 Yamane Yūzo 1962b, p. 248; and Paine and Soper 1975, p. 215.
 Kyoto National Museum 1974a, pls. 19, 20, 63, 64, and 89.
 Yamane Yūzo 1962b, p. 241.
 Kobayashi Tadashi 1991, nos. 83, 200.
 "Chikusai monogatari" 1960.
 See Murase 1973.
 Yamane Yūzo 1962b, fig. 32.
 Tales of lse 1968.
 Ibid., p. 75·
 Five of these are in American collections: in addition to the present shikishi, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Cleveland
Museum of Art; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; and a private collection in New York have one each. Twelve shikishi that differ distinctly in style
are also known. See Murashige Yasushi 1991, pl. 2; and Nakamachi Keiko 1992b, pp.11–28.
 Itō Tōshiko 1984, pp. 128–30. Unfortunately, the inscription is no longer visible, as the backing sheet was replaced when the Burke piece was again
 Ibid., pp. 30–45. Mitsuhiro's colophon is on pp. 44–45.
 Yamane Yūzo 1975, p. 19.