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Zhou Maoshu Appreciating Lotuses, ink and light color on paper
National treasure
By Kanō Masanobu
1 hanging scroll
Ink and light color on paper, hanging scroll
Muromachi period/15th century
Kyushu National Museum
This painting depicts an open, fresh scene with a vast waterside, where the breeze sweeps through stroking willows and a boat carrying two people floats among the lotuses. The person on the left seems to be Shu Moshuku (Ton-i, 1017 – 1073), a Confucian scholar in the Chinese Northern Song period and a founder of neo-Confucianism, who had a passion for the lotus as the flower for men of virtue and wrote “Loving Lotus Story.” In the Muromachi period, intellectuals such as Zen monks were acquainted with Chinese classics and had a deep understanding of Chinese culture. These intellectuals, who developed a longing for Chinese culture, appreciated this picture as a painting depicting a Chinese traditional motif.

It is clear from the intagliated seal (Hakubun Kanae-in), “Masanobu,” at the bottom right of the screen that this is a work of Kano Masanobu (1434 – 1530). Masanobu is a painter who established the foundation of the Kano school, which, as a mainstream school, led Japanese art circles until the late Edo period. He served Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 – 1490), the eighth Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, who built the Ginkakuji temple, as an official painter of the Shogunate.

Based on the copy of a Chinese painting (copy of Ryuka Shukusagi-zu by Baen; Tokyo University of the Arts) that has the same willow design, it is estimated that Masanobu created this painting by leveraging what he learned from Intaiga (court paintings) of the Southern Song period owned by the Ashikaga Shogun family. The “brushwork (Hitsuyo)” of many ink and wash paintings of the Muromachi period show that they imitated the style of a certain Chinese painter. In this sense, this painting is in the “Baen style” as it is clear that it follows the example of Baen, an imperial painter (huayuan painter) in the Southern Song period. This painting also has historical significance as a typical painting of the Muromachi period that demonstrates the imitation of a style in its brushwork.

This is the only national treasure by Masanobu, the founder of the Kano school and constitutes an excellent piece representing the ink and wash paintings of the Higashiyama Culture that prospered in Kyoto during the Muromachi period. This painting was handed down to the Date family, a former feudal lord.