Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maple with Poem Slips (front; 1977.156-157) and Bamboo and Fences (verso; 1977.158-159, 1654/81
Pair of six-panel screens; ink, color, gold and silver on silk (front); ink and light color on paper (back)
each 144 x 286 cm
Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1977.156, 1977.157, 1977.158, 1977.159
The elegant custom of reciting classical verses during an outing was a long-standing entertainment of Japanese aristocrats. The artist of these screens, Tosa Mitsuoki, has depicted the outcome of one such gathering, after the departure of reveling courtiers who have left behind their verses on strips tied to tree branches.
These screens were commissioned by or presented as a gift by Tofukumon’in (1607–1678), daughter of the shogun and wife of the emperor Gomizunoo (1596–1680). This imperial couple were patrons who sparked a renaissance of courtly aesthetics. Tofukumon’in had received instruction in composing verse, writing calligraphy, and engaging in other refined pastimes. She was known to have sponsored poetry gatherings in the women’s quarters of the palace, events that were attended by ladies-in-waiting and ranking noblemen. These screens may have been used as part of the decorative program for the rooms during such an occasion.
Mitsuoki signed this pair of screens with his name and rank as head of the court painting bureau. On the reverse side of the screens were paintings of bamboo fences, thought to be by the same artist. These were removed and mounted separately at some point before both pairs entered the Art Institute’s collection.— Exhibition label, Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum, June 26–September 27, 2009, Regenstein Hall.
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 top screen, while its mate displays the brilliant red and gold foliage of a maple 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 legible 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, 2009, p. 96.