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Waterbird in Flight

Painting by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died ca. 1640)

Calligrapher:
Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (Japanese, 1579–1638)
Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
probably 1630s
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Dimensions:
Image: 35 1/4 x 14 3/16 in. (89.5 x 36 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Collection of Peggy and Richard M. Danziger
  • Description

    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.

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