Chinese Poems and Calligraphy

Mitsui Shinna 三井親和 Japanese

Not on view

Mitsui Shinna—a celebrated late-eighteenth century Japanese calligrapher and master of seal-carving (tenkoku)—brushed this dynamic array of Chinese characters in various scripts on individual sheets that were then pasted across the expanse of a six-panel folding screen. Most arresting are the pairs of oversized characters in archaic seal script (tensho) on the right, in standard script (kaisho) in the middle, and in a variant form of seal script rendered in a mottled form, as if characters from an ink rubbing, on the left. Each pair of large characters comprises the beginning of a couplet of Chinese Tang-dynasty verse. The remaining eight characters of each couplet are inscribed in expert cursive script (sōsho) on the adjacent panel. The first couplet is from a poem by Du Fu (712–770); the second and third couplets are from poems by Li Bai (701–762). Both poets have been highly esteemed in Japan from the Heian period (794–1185) through early-modern times.

For this screen, the calligrapher selected phrases that would combine to help create an imaginary outdoor setting for a gathering of friends. The couplet by Du Fu on the first two panels (on the right) reads:

竹深留客處 荷淨納涼時

Deep in the bamboo grove,
is the place for guests to tarry.
When the pure lotus blossoms appear,
is the time to enjoy the coolness.

The next couplet, occupying the middle two panels, is by Li Bai—from a poem praising a Buddhist temple garden, which thus continues with the metaphors of an idealized garden setting where literati gather. With the first two characters rendered in oversize standard script, the inscription reads:

樓臺成海氣 草木發天香

Towers and terraces
arise like mirages on the seas.
Grasses and trees
emit a heavenly fragrance.

On the final pair of panels is another couplet by Li Bai, a passage from a set of twelve poems honoring Li Bai’s close friend Yuan Danqiu元丹邱, a Daoist recluse. Again, the first two characters are inscribed in seal script, but this time in manner appearing weathered or rubbed:

松風清瑤瑟 溪月湛芳樽

Pine trees rustling in the wind
pure as sounds of a jade zither.
Moonlight on the mountain stream
illumines the goblets of wine.

(Translations by John T. Carpenter)

Chinese Poems and Calligraphy, Mitsui Shinna 三井親和 (Japanese, 1700–1782), Six-panel folding screen; ink on paper, Japan

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