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Koto, chess, calligraphy, and painting
Important Cultural Property
By Kaihō Yūshō
A pair of six-fold screens
Ink and color on paper
Azuchi-Momoyama~Edo period/16-17th century
Tokyo National Museum
Since ancient times, koto, chess, calligraphy, and painting were important accomplishments for men of noble character in the East. Because of that, they were a popular theme in paintings from the early period, and those paintings were great in number.
Among the four accomplishments, playing koto and chess (or go) were entertainments suitable for men of noble character. As for calligraphy and painting, it was considered ideal to know well the refined ways of engaging in those activities, e.g., to be absorbed in composing poetry, let a page rub sumi (to make sumi ink) and write a poem, or to obtain refined aesthetic pleasure from an appreciation of paintings rather than painting them.
This piece follows those ideas and values, but all of the main figures are women in the Chinese style. While the manner of dress expresses high dignity with the serenity typical of persons of noble character, they demonstrate brilliance as well. There is something fascinating and elegant about them. The artist added plum trees on the cliff, broadleaf trees, and other parts to the scenery in a skillful manner that pervades the brilliant air. In comparison to the characters, the study and the books are painted meticulously, the incidental details of the picture are handled with a rather bold touch. This expresses a character typical for Yūshō. The atmosphere of the painting suggests that it was painted in the prime of his life, when he was in high spirits. The signature "Yūshō," a seal reads "Kaihō," and another seal reads "Yūshō" at the corners of the screens on both sides.