National TreasureReading in a Bamboo Grove

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  • 紙本墨画淡彩竹斎読書図
  • Purportedly by Shūbun. Preface by Jikuun Touren, and poems by Kousei Ryuha and other four monks
  • 1 hanging scroll
  • light color on paper
  • 134.8x33.3
  • Muromachi period/15th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-1164

This poetry-painting scroll (J. shigajiku) comprises a landscape painting owned by Kô, a monk of the Kyoto temple Nanzen-ji in the first half of the fifteenth century, and poems and a preface added by then-renowned Zen monks. Shûbun (fl. 1423-1460), the artist to whom this painting is attributed, was at this time a Zen monk at Shôkoku-ji Temple and served the Ashikaga shogunate as a painter. Although not a single work can be firmly ascribed to Shûbun and the seal at the bottom right that reads "Ekkei Shûbun" is dubious, this painting, which has been passed down in the Myôchi-in Temple in Kyoto, is one of the few that is appropriate for consideration as Shûbun's work.

The composition and motifs reflect the style of such Southern-Song Chinese painters as Xia Gui (active first half of thirteenth century) and Ma Yuan (active c. 1190-1230), as well as works of the Ma-Xia School that continued that tradition in the subsequent Yuan (c. 1280-1368) and Ming (1368-c. 1644) periods. The composition follows an unbroken diagonal: in the far distance at the upper left, across a body of water, are depicted mist-enshrouded mountains; in the foreground at the lower right, surrounded by a bamboo grove, is a thatched hut within which sits a lone figure reading a book; at the bottom left, two people cross a bridge towards the hut. Although a small picture, the painting has a vast sense of space and is a representative masterpiece of the "study-retreat picture" (J. shosaizu), made in this period, for Zen monks who were drawn to the idea of hermetic seclusion.

The preface was written by Jikuun Tôren (1383-1471), and the poems were added by Kôsei Ryûha (1375-1446), Shinden Seiha (1375-1447), Tôshô Shûgen (1391-1462), Zuigan Ryûsei (1384-1460), and Kisei Reigen (1403-1488).

The preface is dated to Bun'an 4 (1447), however, it appears that the picture was painted considerably earlier. Although the preface mentions the person who commissioned the scroll, it makes no mention at all of the painter, as was typical of the time.