Portrait of Shun'oku Myōha (1311–1388)

Artist: Unidentified Artist Japanese

Period: Nanbokuchō period (1336–92)

Date: ca. 1383

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk

Dimensions: Image: 45 5/8 × 20 1/2 in. (115.9 × 52.1 cm)
Overall: 79 × 29 3/4 in. (200.7 × 75.6 cm)
Overall with knobs: 79 × 31 5/8 in. (200.7 × 80.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.329


This portrait depicts the Zen priest Shun’oku Myōha seated cross-legged in a red lacquered chair with his shoes placed on a footrest. Shun’oku was a nephew and leading disciple of Musō Soseki. Shun’oku’s illustrious monastic career included abbotships at several major monasteries and top administrative positions. He was also an intimate of the first and third Ashikaga shoguns, Takauji (1305–1358) and Yoshimitsu (1358– 1408). He counted among his own disciples the priest-painter Gyokuen Bonpō.

Zen portraits of this type, called chinsō, were disseminated among followers and served a ritual function in funerals and memorial services. Shun’oku inscribed his portrait with a poem:

There are no eyes atop the head. There are eyebrows below the chin. This is everything; this is nothing. I also could not become a phoenix.
Inscribed by Myōha of Tenryū[ji] for [?] at Muryōjuin

—Trans. Anne Nishimura Morse and Samuel Morse