Kangaku Shinso (Soami) (Japanese, died 1525)
Pair of six-fold screens, ink on paper
68 1/4 x 146 in. (173.4 x 370.4 cm)
Gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 1941 (41.59.1,2)
Vast landscapes on screens and sliding doors set a serene and contemplative mood in Muromachi-period mansions and temples. In these screens, muted ink tones and the soft contours of the land create a vista that evokes the inlets and mountainous shores of Japan's inland sea. The painting, however, refers to the landscape of southern China, known to the artist through a handscroll prized by the Ashikaga shoguns: the Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang, painted by Muqi, a Chinese monk painter of the thirteenth century. Enlarged and unified as a vast landscape, vignettes of daily life are set within the embrace of nature's cycles, conforming to a longstanding preference in Japanese interior decoration that is rooted in the art and poetry of the late Heian period (ca. 9001185). At the far right, a traveler crosses a bridge to a village glimpsed amid rising clouds of spring and mist. In the center, waterfalls cascade to the open river, where the bustle of fishermen signals summer. In the left screen, boats moored at a distant shore and a line of migrating geese convey autumnal nostalgia. Snow-covered rooftops at the base of the whitened mountains bring the cycle to a close. The tranquil landscape provides a meditative environment in which man's relationship with nature is both familiar and all-encompassing.
Soami was the last of three generations of connoisseurs who served as artistic advisors to the Ashikaga shoguns in Kyoto.