About This Artwork

Tosa Mitsuoki
Japanese, 1617-1691

Autumn Maples with Poem Slips, c. 1675

Six-panel screen (one of pair); Ink, colors, gold leaf, and gold powder on silk
144 x 286 cm

Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1977.157

Japanese aristocrats engaged in the elegant custom of recollecting classical poetry while viewing spring and autumn foliage. In these delicate screens, premier court painter Tosa Mitsuoki meditated on the inevitable passage of beauty by depicting the melancholy hours after the departure of reveling courtiers. A cherry tree bursts into bloom on the right screen (seen here at top), while its mate displays the brilliant red and gold foliage of maples in autumn. Slips of poetry, called tanzaku, waft from the blossoming limbs, the remaining evidence of a human presence. Courtiers (whose names are recorded in a seventeenth-century document) assisted Mitsuoki by inscribing the narrow strips with quotations of appropriate seasonal poetry from twelfth- and thirteenth-century anthologies. The screens were either commissioned by or given to Tofukumon’in (1607–1678), a daughter of the Tokugawa shogun who married the emperor Gomizunoo (1596–1680). In an era otherwise marked by increasing control of the feudal shogunate over imperial prerogatives, this royal couple encouraged a renaissance of courtly taste that nostalgically evoked the past glories of early-medieval aristocratic life.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 110.

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