This fragment once belonged to a long handscroll known as the “Narikane Version” because its calligraphy was attributed to the courtier-poet Taira no Narikane (died ca. 1209). It is the only portion known to be in an American collection. The poem was inscribed in small, evenly spaced letters that seldom flow into one another.
Ne no hi shi ni shimetsuru nobe no hime komatsu hikade ya chiyo no kage o matamashi
Don’t uproot the pine sapling in the field roped off for the Day of the Rat— wait a thousand years until it casts a long shadow!
—trans. by John T. Carpenter
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藤原清忠 「業兼本 時代不同歌合絵巻」 断簡
Title:The Poet Fujiwara Kiyotada, from the “Narikane Version” of Thirty-six Poetic Immortals
Artist:Unidentified artist Japanese
Period:Kamakura period (1185–1333)
Medium:Section of a handscroll mounted as a hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:Image: 10 3/8 x 10 1/8 in. (26.4 x 25.7 cm) Overall with mounting: 42 1/8 x 14 5/8 in. (107 x 37.1 cm) Overall with knobs: 42 1/8 x 16 3/8 in. (107 x 41.6 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, in memory of Setsu Iwao, 2014
Refined aristocrats of Heian-period Japan exchanged thoughts and expressed their views and emotions—both public and private—through waka, short verses consisting of thirty-one syllables. The ability to compose waka extempore was an essential element of aristocratic deportment; for ambitious courtiers of both sexes it was a prerequisite to achieving recognition and promotion in the capital.
Courtly pastimes of the period included a variety of contests or competitions in almost every field of artistic endeavor. The custom can be traced to the 880s and the games played among women of the court. Painting competitions (e-awase) and perfume-blending contests (kō-awase ) were popular, but poetry competitions (uta-awase) —parties at which aristocrats gathered to enjoy one another's company and compare their versifying skills—were a vital component of patrician life. The contestants and judges at the earliest uta-awase were female; gradually, however, men appropriated both roles. The portrayal of uta-awase participants in painting became a tradition, and the portraits came to be known as kasen-e (pictures of the Immortal Poets).
The establishment of the Thirty-six Immortal Poets (Sanjūrokkasen ) is traditionally thought to arise from a dispute between the renowned scholar, critic, and poet Fujiwara Kintō (966–1041) and the poet-critic Prince Rokujō Tomohira (964–1009). The two differed in their choice of the greatest waka poet. Kintō nominated Ki no Tsurayuki (ca. 872– 945) for first place, whereas Tomohira preferred Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (seventh to early eighth century). To buttress his opinion, Kintō selected thirty-six poets of the Nara and Heian periods and requested other waka connoisseurs to evaluate and rank them. But the majority rejected Kintō 's favorite and gave the highest honor to Hitomaro. Consequently it became popular to put together lists of great poets, usually thirty-six in number, with Hitomaro in the premier position. When Kintō selected the thirty-six masters soon to be known as kasen (Immortal Poets), he also chose representative verses from each—a total of 150 poems.
One literary record implies that kasen-e were made as early as 1050; however, the oldest firmly documented work dates to the late 1170s. It is likely that an earlier custom of paying homage to the painted image of Hitomaro inspired artists to produce the first examples of kasen-e. Veneration of Hitomaro's portrait as an icon is traditionally said to have been initiated in 1118. The ceremony—which endured for centuries—was obviously based upon the Chinese custom of paying homage to portraits of Confucian sages, and on its first public viewing a newly made imaginary portrait of the genius of poetry was displayed with flowers and offerings before it. Hitomaro was portrayed as an aged gentleman informally clad, with a sheaf of writing paper in his left hand and a writing brush in his right.
Hitomaro's appearance is traditionally thought to have been based on a vision of a certain Awata Sanuki no kami Kanefusa, an aficionado of waka. Kanefusa, who aspired to poetic greatness, had prayed to the spirit of Hitomaro for divine assistance. One evening a pensive old gentleman in casual attire, a bundle of writing paper in his left hand and a writing brush in his right, appeared to Kanefusa in a dream and identified himself as Hitomaro. In the morning Kanefusa had his dream figure rendered as a painting, intending to use the image as an icon for personal worship. Thereafter Kanefusa's poetry showed great improvement. The miraculous portrait was willed to the emperor Shirakawa (1053–1129), another aficionado of waka. Many copies of this painting were made, and they became indispensable in ceremonies dedicated to the "holy man" of waka.
The Kamakura period witnessed the peak of kasen-e production. Among the factors that contributed to the popularity of this genre was the fierce determination of the politically enfeebled Kyoto court to maintain its role as the guardian of aristocratic cultural traditions. A tendency toward realism in the arts of the period resulted in an appreciation for portrait paintings known as nise-e (likeness pictures), while a new awareness of history and a keen interest in historical personages resulted in a wealth of historical writings and paintings depicting important events of the recent past. Although kasen-e were imaginary likenesses of men and women who lived long before the paintings were made, the desire to create individualized "portraits" of the Immortal Poets exemplified the spirit of the Kamakura era.
One of the oldest extant examples of kasen-e is a set of two handscrolls known as the Satake-bon (Satake family version), dated to the first half of the thirteenth century; originally part of the Satake collection, it was divided among various owners in 1919. Nearly contemporary with the Satake scrolls is a similar set of handscrolls known as the Agedatami-bon (Poets-Seated-on-Mats version). It is believed that both versions were modeled after earlier scrolls whose artists divided the poets into two competing groups in the tradition of uta-awase-e (pictures of poetry competitions). Although an atmosphere of competition is not apparent in these two works, many later paintings on the same subject depict the poets as opposed pairs. Some pictures also record the names of judges and their decisions. These later works, which emphasize interaction among the poets, are usually referred to as uta-awase-e, whereas paintings in which the poets are shown primarily as individuals are known simply as kasen-e. The distinction between the two genres is, however, never truly clear-cut.
The richness and diversity of Kamakura-period kasen-e are impressive. Variations on the kasen-e theme resulted in new types of poet pictures which deviated from the Kintō model in their choice of poets and sample verses. The kasen-e tradition endured into the Muromachi and later periods and continued to offer ever richer variations and innovations on the poet-portrait theme, all the while retaining its vigorous ancient roots. For all of their deceptively simple content kasen-e express the quintessential Japanese reverence for the power of word and image, while uniting the three high arts of literature, calligraphy, and painting.
The present fragment depicting Fujiwara Kiyotada was separated from the Narikane version, so named because its calligraphy was attributed by an Edo-period connoisseur to Narikane (d. ca. 1209) of the Taira family. Inscriptions in the Narikane scroll consist of each poet's personal name without titles or biographical data, and a single two-line poem for each. The oldest known kasen-e version after the Satake and Agedatami versions, this work, cut apart during the late Edo period, occupies a pivotal position in the history of kasen-e. In the Narikane version the earlier format for kasen-e was drastically modified; the sequence of poets differs from that of the older Satake version; and only twenty-two of the thirty-six poems quoted are from the Kintō selection,the remainder having been chosen from other anthologies. The figures of the poets are close together, almost claustrophobically boxed in by rows of poetic text. Today only about fifteen pieces from this scroll are known; the present fragment is the only portion said to be in an American collection.
In the original arrangement of the Narikane version, the two teams of poets occupied separate scrolls, but they were depicted as though they were facing each other. Most of the poets from the "left'' team, like the example shown here, appeared in the first scroll, facing the viewer's left with their verses also inscribed to the left of the figures. In the second scroll members of the "right'' team were depicted in reverse arrangement. A sense of competition was graphically rendered here for the first time. Two copies of the Narikane scrolls, made before the originals were cut apart, exist today. One, in the Tanaka Shinbi collection in Tokyo, was signed by Sumiyoshi Gukei (1631–1705); it seems to have served as a model for Kano Osanobu (1796–1846), who produced a copy (now in the Tokyo National Museum) in 1837. In the Gukei copy, the poet Kiyotada was portrayed as the thirteenth contestant in the "left'' group.
All inscriptions in the surviving fragments of the Narikane version were written by the same, as yet unidentified calligrapher. In the present work, as in the other fragments, the name of the poet is inscribed in Chinese characters, with the poem in kana. The poem itself appears in the anthology of Kiyotada's works, the Kiyotadashū (Collected Poems of Kiyotada), as poem no. 6, as well as in the Shin Kokinwakashū (New Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern), as poem no.709. In both anthologies the poem is preceded by a headnote stating that it was composed upon the celebration of the First Day of the Rat in Kii province (modern Wakayama prefecture). It may be translated as follows:
Ne no hi shite Shimetsuru nobe no Himekomatsu Hikadeya chiyo no Kage o matamashi.
On the First Day of the Rat A tiny pine stands in a roped-off field; Rather than plucking it Why not wait a thousand years Until they cast thick shade.
The poet is portrayed as a rather youngish fellow, holding himself erect and apparently concentrating his energy on versifying. His robe is painted off-white, but no color was applied to his face, except for a hint of pale pink on the lips. Thin, even, sharply angled lines define the stiff costume with its severe folds. The poem was inscribed in small, evenly spaced letters which seldom flow into one another. Brush lines have little in the way of inflection. The traditional attribution of calligraphy to Narikane has no historical basis, and stylistic features of the calligraphy and painting help to date this work to the second half of the thirteenth century.
In the fragments from the Narikane scrolls many of the poets, like Kiyotada, are informally dressed; the paper used for the handscrolls is unsized. By the time this work was produced, patronage of kasen-e seems to have widened to include persons from less aristocratic levels of society. In their departure from the idealizing tendency of earlier kasen paintings, the Narikane scrolls constitute a superb example of the move toward realism that dominated the aesthetic spirit of the Kamakura period. Many later versions created after the Muromachi period—especially works produced by members of the Kano and Tosa schools—-reflect the influence of the Narikane version.
Miyeko Murase. In Miyeko Murase, The Written Image. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2002, cat. no. 25
 Minegishi 1954, p. 13.  For literary records on this dispute, see Hasegawa 1979.  The first four poets on Kintō 's list (Hitomaro, Tsurayuki, Mitsune, and Ise) and the last two (Kanemori and Nakatsukasa) were represented by ten poems each, whereas the remainder were represented by three poems each.  See the section on the uta-awase of the fifth year of the Eisho era (1050), in Nagazumi and Shimada, eds. 1966, p. 313, and the entry for the fourth month, the twenty-sixth day of the same year in Hagitani, ed. 1959.  Our understanding of the history of kasen-e and uta-awase-e owes a great deal to Mori Toru, whose various articles on this subject are published in his Uta-awase-e no kenkyu (Mori 1978). This portrait of poets is known as ]ishō Sanjurokunin uta-awase-e, after the Jishō era (1177–1180 ). It is known only from literary records and one small fragment of a mid-thirteenth-century copy in the Masaki Museum, Osaka. It apparently included a statement to the effect that it had been edited and its poets selected according to Kintō 's model; see Mori 1978, pp. 77–80, fig. 17.  Kakinomoto eigu ki (Record of the Worship of Kakinomoto Portrait) was edited by Fujiwara Atsumitsu (1061–1144). See Kawamata, ed. 1928–38, vol. 13, p. 53.  For a record of this dream, see Izumi, ed. 1982, pp. 118–19.  Mori et al. 1979, pls. 7–47.  For sections from this scroll, see Mori et al. 1979, pls. 48–61; and Suntory Museum of Art 1986, nos. 22-26.  For some of the later variations, see Murase 1986, nos. 14 and 16. In most of these works from the Kamakura and later periods, poets were represented by one poem each.  Graybill 1984–85, p. 106.  Graybill 1984–85, p. 106.  Graybill 1984–85, p. 106. Many of the fragments are reproduced in the Suntory Museum of Art 1986, nos. 27–32; Mori 1978, pl. 6; Mori et al. 1979, pls. 63–70; and Shinbo 1983.  A faithful copy by Sumiyoshi Gukei in the Tanaka Shinbi collection preserves the original form of the complete work. See Mori et al. 1979, unnumbered plate, and Mori 1978, fig. 7. An 1837 copy by Kano Osanobu, now in the Tokyo National Museum, is reproduced in Shinbo 1983, pp. 90-92, fig. I.  Ne no hi, the First Day of the Rat, is traditionally celebrated by collecting pine seedlings in a field.  For other translations, see Graybill 1984–85, p. 106 and Honda 1970.  See Shinbo 1986, p. 83.
[ Iwao Setsu , Kyoto, until 1974; sold to Sylvan Barnet and William Burto]; Sylvan Barnet and William Burto , Cambridge, MA (until 2014; donated to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Paintings from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection," October 1, 2002–March 2, 2003.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Brush Writing in the Arts of Japan," August 17, 2013–January 12, 2014.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japan: A History of Style," March 8, 2021–April 24, 2022.
Akiyama Terukazu, Shimada Shūjirō, and Yamane Yūzō, eds. Zaigai Nihon no shihō (Japanese Art: Selections from Western Collections): Emakimono (Narrative Scroll Painting) vol. 2, Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1980, pl. 44.
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