Calligraphy of a Tang-dynasty poem, "Maple Bridge Night Mooring"

Artist: Ike Taiga (Japanese, 1723–1776)

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: ca. 1770

Culture: Japan

Medium: Two-panel folding screen; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image (each panel): 53 1/4 x 22 1/8 in. (135.3 x 56.2 cm)
Overall: 68 3/4 x 72 3/4 in. (174.6 x 184.8 cm)

Classification: Screens

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 2008

Accession Number: 2008.66


During the Edo period Ike Taiga, one of Japan's most prolific literati artists, excelled in a special calligraphic style called karayō, or Chinese-style calligraphy. This screen shows Taiga's execution of a famous Chinese poem, "Maple Bridge Night Mooring," composed by Zhang Ji in the eighth century. Translated, the poem reads:

The moon sets, crows sing, and frost fills the sky.
Maple trees along the river and fires in fishing boats
face me, sleepless with lament.
The bell of Cold Mountain Temple outside Suzhou tolls,
At midnight, the sound reaches this boat.

The calligraphy is flamboyant and various: the characters are large and small, the ink wet and dry, and the lines thick and thin. The work holds a powerful spiritual tension in its fluctuating verticality.