Kanō Isen’in Naganobu 狩野伊川院栄信 Japanese
Not on view
This diptych of colorful landscapes, brushed in meticulous detail, showcases the expert abilities of the painter Isen’in Naganobu, of the Edo Kano school, to convert famous Chinese poems of the past into evocative imagery for his wealthy Japanese clients of the early nineteenth century. On the right scroll, a two-story Chinese pavilion stands on the water’s edge. While a young servant prepares wine on the table, a scholar in red robes looks down at a fellow scholar in blue robes who has just arrived at the gate, accompanied by a groom leading a horse and a young servant carrying his belongings. Leashed to the balustrade on the second floor, a pair of gibbons seem to be greeting the guest as well. A fishing boat is moored near the shore in the foreground; two fishermen are taking a break from their work while a boy holding a fish net keeps watch on a fish trap. Right behind the pavilion is anchored a luxuriously decorated boat, suggesting that an elegant gathering will be held later out on the lake. Amid the mists painted in gold, a lonely fishing boat floats in the distant waters; in the background meandering mountains are painted in blue. A plaque in archaic script identifies the site as Yueyang Pavilion (Gakuyō rō 岳陽楼) in archaic script style, suggesting this is a painting of the famous Yueyang Pavilion located on the east shore of Lake Dongting in present-day Hunan Province.
Tang dynasty poet-sage Du Fu’s (712–770) poem is the most eminent among the countless poems that praise Yueyang Pavilion’s historical prominence and marvelous view of the lake:
Climbing Yueyang Pavilion
I have long heard of
the waters of Lake Dongting.
Now I climb
the Yueyang Pavilion.
The ancient states of Wu and Chu
split to the east and south;
Between Heaven and Earth,
days and nights float by.
Relative and friends?
Not one word from them.
Old and sick,
I only have my lonely boat.
War horses run,
north of mountains on the border.
I lean on the railing
tears flow from my eyes and nose.
In contrast to the elegant scene on the right, the lefthand scroll depicts a rustic setting where two gentlemen loll about on grass-woven mats, playing drinking games while a young boy looks on. One man’s robe has fallen off his shoulder, indicating that he is already drunk. Another youth is talking with the man in the cottage, probably asking for more wine. Another man is scooping water from the lake with a young boy standing behind. Two boats are moored on the foreground. Fishermen on the boats in are enjoying their lunch. In the background, towering mountains and an island on the lake are painted green and blue. Three fishing boats are plying the waters of the lake. The fishermen are trying to capture fish with traps, nets, rods, and cormorants.
Although no inscription identifies the theme of this scroll, it recalls a poem by Du Fu’s close friend and fellow famous poet, Li Bai. The festive drinking party at Lake Dongting described in the poem superimposes this image and serves as a perfect pair to Du Fu’s poem:
Accompanying My Uncle, the Deputy Minister, on an Excursion to Lake Dongting:
Three Poems Written Upon Becoming Intoxicated
Today, a banquet in the
With the sagely Deputy Minister
from our clan.
Drinking three cups of wine,
just like Ruan Xian accompanying his uncle.
After drinking I reach
an untrammeled state of mind.
we join in boating fun.
At the heart of the lake,
float homeward through the moonlight.
White gulls are resting
not bothering to take flight,
But rather strive to
swoop athwart our drinking table.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
if we level off Junshan island;
will flow smoothly beyond.
There’s no limit to the wine;
We are incredibly drunk,
in the autumn at Lake Dongting.
(Translations by Jonathan Chaves, adapted by Tim Zhang)
Isen’in Naganobu was the head of the Kobikicho branch of the Kano house in Edo and served as a court painter for the shogunate. As this work attests, Naganobu was skilled in painting detailed landscapes with a dramatically receding perspective––the boats and mountains in the distance are painted on a much smaller scale to convey a sense of spatial depth. The blue, green, and gold palette is a conscious evocation of a Tang dynasty color scheme.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.