Portrait of Shun'oku Myōha

Unidentified artist

Not on view

The Zen monk Shun’oku Myōha (1311–1388) is shown sitting cross-legged in a red lacquer chair with his shoes placed on a footrest. Shun’oku’s illustrious monastic career included top administrative positions, abbotships at major monastery temples, including Tenryūji and Nanzenji in Kyoto, and close relationships with the first and third Ashikaga shoguns. Zen portraits called chinsō were disseminated among followers and served a ritual function in memorial services. The bamboo staff signifies authority, and Shun’oku’s decorative robes and kesa (monk’s vestment) are important signs of rank. 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 [illegible] at Muryōju’in

—Translation by Anne Nishimura Morse and Samuel Morse

Portrait of Shun'oku Myōha, Unidentified artist Japanese, Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk, Japan

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