under Cherry and Willow Trees Attributed
to Kano Ryokei (died 1645)
Japan, Kyoto Prefecture
Nishionganji: Edo Period, first half 17th century
Ink and color on gold leaf on paper
63 x 143.25 in.
Trade between Japan and China was reopened during the 12th century. This
resumption meant that Chinese monochrome ink paintings could be imported
into Japan. The first ink paintings produced in Japan following these
Chinese models were religious, and were used in meditation and ritual
practices by Zen Buddhist monks. Eventually, the techniques and themes
of ink painting spread from the Zen monasteries to the studios of professional
painter of this work was probably a member of the Kano school, the hereditary
family of painters employed by the Tokugawa shoguns and other military
rulers from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Kano painters combined Chinese
inspired themes and the brushwork style of ink painting with Japanese
subjects and themes that reflected Japanese sensibility. This new style
of painting was well suited to the sliding doors and folding screens that
became the dominant type of official painting.
Originating in China, folding screens first entered Japan as gifts from
the Korean Silla kingdom in 686 C.E. However, it was in Japan that screens
achieved their full aesthetic potential as important aspects of interior
the late 16th century the use of a gold foil background for painted screens
became extremely popular, allowing the owner to display his wealth and
status, and serving a practical purpose as well. In late medieval Japan
the construction of stone fortifications made the bright effect of the
metallic panels an asset in dark castles.
of the Four Seasons
Japan is a country of marked by seasonal changes and the four seasons
has been a favorite theme both in the literary and the visual arts. Specific
images evoked a specific season and often, the human activities that were
a part of the passing year. These seasonal images are often used a metaphors
for human emotions. Sensitivity to the subtle changes in the landscape
and the feelings these changes elicit have often been understood as the
mark of a cultured person in Japan.
to look at this work
In Pheasants under Cherry and Willow Trees we see two birds, a male and
a female pheasant, under the shelter of three old trees with exposed roots.
Growing near the trunks of these trees are leafy green plants. Moving
upwards, there is moss growing along the trunks of the blooming trees,
which display light pinkish-white cherry blossoms and light green dripping
willow branches. On the left hand side of the screen are impressions of
clouds above a dark sky.
accompanying screen, Irises and Mist, shows Irises growing in a misty
bank. Like the previous work, we can see the impressions of the clouds
against the gold background. Irises, a common springtime flower in the
United States, bloom during the summertime in Japan due to climatic differences.
these works we see spring, shown through the predominant themes in the
first screen (cherry blossoms and pheasants), followed by summer, in the
form of the blooming irises, in the second screen.
Traditional Japanese residence-whether house, temple, or palace-had few
permanent interior walls. As much as possible, interior space dividers
were kept movable. Folding screens were used as temporary space dividers
since they are relatively lightweight, easily folded to portable size
and easy to move or store away. In addition, they were used to create
private areas in- or out-of-doors, as gifts, as backgrounds for concerts
or dancing, and as backdrops for important ceremonies, including Buddhist
and other rites. When decorated with a painting, a screen also became
an object for visual pleasure and a symbol of the owner's wealth and power.
Screens were usually made to suit the needs and tastes of a particular
this object was made
Each panel of a screen consists of a light wooden frame enclosing a lattice
of wooden strips. Several layers of paper are pasted over this foundation
to build up a backing to support the surface-usually paper, but occasionally
silk-on which a painting is executed. The panels are hinged together with
paper, which is interlocked and overlapped from the front of one panel
to the back of the next. This allows the panels to be closely joined and
to fold in an accordion fashion. A frame of narrow, lacquered wooden strips
is attached to the outer edge of the entire screen. Screens were often,
although not always, produced in pairs.