Thirty-six immortal poets

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    The ever-popular thirty-six immortal poets are traditionally painted individually, sitting ceremoniously with one of their poems inscribed above. However, here Chinnen shows the poets, who were not contemporary with one another, all huddled together in one place. Moreover, the scene is clearly an undiginified one, as each poet appears to be in various stages of discomfort. One poet wearily rests his head on his hand, another tugs at his collar, others stroke or scratch their faces, and the courtier in front of the curtain has even fallen asleep.

    This kind of composition showing all of the poets together in one room was made popular by Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), an artist in the Rimpa lineage. The two most well known examples are a two-fold screen in the Freer Gallery of Art, as well as one in the Shin’enkan collection [the work in the Freer Gallery of Art is reproduced in Takeda Tsuneo, Yamane Yūzō, Yoshizawa Chū, eds, Jinbutsu-e: Yamato-e kei jinbutsu, Nihon byōbu-e shūsei vol. 5 (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1981),
    64, and the Shin’enkan Screen is published in Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Shin’enkan korekushon: umi o watatta Nihon no bi (Osaka: Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 1985), 72]. The humorous image was later copied by other artists of the Rimpa school as in Suzuki Kiitsu’s (1796-1858) version, a hanging scroll in the British Museum [published in Hirayama Ikuo and Kobayashi Tadashi, Daiei hakubutsukan, Hizō
    Nihon bijutsu taikan vol. 3 (Tokyo Kodansha, 1982), plate 32].

    Chinnen was known in particular for his creative compositions in his illustrated books, most notably the Sonan Gafu of 1834 which has a playful rendition of the poet Murasaki Shikibu [see Owen E. Holloway, Graphic Art of Japan: The Classical School (London: Alec Tiranti, 1957), plate 84]. In the Ashmolean’s fan, he has taken inspiration from the Rimpa style, and has even used an oversized seal reminiscent of artists of that school. However, Chinnen’s rendering is more in keeping with the Shijō manner than those by later Rimpa artists. For example, the faces are much less caricatured, and the robes and other forms are painted without the exaggerated curves often seen in works of the Rimpa school.

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 36 on p. 136, p. 85, illus. pp. 136-137

Seaman, Joyce, Manjū: Netsuke from the Collection of the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2013), illus. p. 158 fig. 49

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