Section of a Poem Scroll with Underpainting of Lotus

Hon'ami Kōetsu (Japanese, 1558–1637)

Underpainting by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died ca. 1640)
Momoyama period (1573–1615)
shortly after 1615
Fragment of a handscroll mounted as a hanging scroll; ink, silver, and gold on paper
Image: 13 x 22 7/8 in. (33 x 58.1 cm) Overall with mounting: 47 1/2 x 23 7/8 in. (120.7 x 60.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Collection of Jane and Raphael Bernstein
  • Description

    Kōetsu’s innovative calligraphic style is celebrated for the way in which it plays with a reader’s expectations. Sometimes he inscribes kana characters in complex archaic forms so that they resemble kanji (Chinese characters); other times, he renders kanji in such an abbreviated and delicate manner that at first glance they resemble kana. A characteristic of his handwriting is the sudden and conspicuous variations in widths of strokes (which, according to orthodox brush styles, would usually be more modulated). Kōetsu was also a master of the art of “scattered writing” (chirashigaki) in which columns of text were rendered in varying lengths to create an attractive arrangement on the page.

    This work originally was part of a much longer handscroll and has been remounted as a hanging scroll. The three waka (thirty-one-syllable court verse) are from the famous anthology One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (Hyakunin isshu), compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the early thirteenth century as a guide to poetry composition.

    The poems read, from right to left, as follows:

    Hito wa isa
    kokoro mo shirazu
    furusato wa
    hana zo mukashi no
    ka ni nioikeru

    Though people’s feelings
    may have changed,
    in this place from my past,
    the plum blossoms
    still have the scent of long ago.

    [signed] Ki no Tsurayuki (ca. 872–945)

    Natsu no yo wa
    mada yoi nagara
    akenuru o
    kumo no izuko ni
    tsuki yadoruramu

    While evening lingers on
    this summer night,
    dawn has already arrived—
    where, amid the clouds,
    could the moon be hiding?

    [signed] Kiyowara no Fukayabu (active early 10th century)

    Shiratsuyu no
    kaze ni fukeishiku
    aki no no wa
    tsuranuki tomenu
    tama zo chirikeru

    Glistening drops of dew,
    scattered by the wind
    across autumn plains,
    appear like unstrung jewels
    scattered everywhere.

    [signed] Fun’ya no Asayasu (active late 9th century)

    —Trans. John T. Carpenter