By Kano Eitoku
A pair of four-fold screens
Ink on paper covered with gold leaves
Azuchi-Momoyama period/16th century
Tokyo National Museum
This folding screen, celebrated as a representative work of monumental polychrome-and-gold painting of the Momoyama period (1573-1615), was handed down within the Katsuranomiya family (formerly known as the Hachijônomiya family). With the death of the final heir and subsequent end of the house in 1881, it became a Treasure of the Imperial Collection (J. gyobutsu). From the telltale traces of door pulls in the paper, it is believed that the paintings on these screens were originally sliding-door paintings in the Hachijônomiya residence, which was completed in the twelfth month of Tenshô 18 (1590). They are therefore thought to be a very late work by Kanô Eitoku (1543-1590), the most famous painter of the time.
Against a backdrop of gold-leafed ground and clouds, the powerful form of an enormous tree fills the screen with its great spreading branches. By simplifying the background, minimizing the number of colors, and by depicting the tree bark energetically with a seemingly coarse brush, the artist has emphasized the commanding presence of the cypress tree. The dark blue waters of a pond peek out from openings in the gold ground and gold clouds.
The strong life force of the powerful tree shows the artist's own passionate spirit and, at the same time, conveys the unconstrained aesthetic of Momoyama elite warriors.