Bridge with Willow Trees and Water Mill


Bridge with Willow Trees and Water Mill

Paintings / Azuchi/Momoyama / Edo

Artist unknown

Azuchi-Momoyama - Edo period, late 16th-early 17th century

Color on gold-leafed paper



Important Art Object

This is a set of two folding screens. A gently-curving bridge sweeps across both screens as willow trees nestle nearby. A water mill and some bamboo baskets sit to the left of the left-hand screen. The baskets are filled with rocks and they serve as bank reinforcements. Another basket peaks out on the right-hand screen. The artist has created raised sections using a seashell pigment call gofun, with basket mesh designs then scored on top . This allows the baskets to stands out from the surface, despite the uniform use of gold color.

The bridge and willows are reminiscent of Uji Bridge in Kyoto. Uji is also famous as a moon-viewing spot, so perhaps this is Uji River. We can see the moon rising up on the right-hand screen. The moon and the splashes on the river surface appear black, but they originally sparkled in silver. The scenery creates a lavish impression with its gold tones, though there are no signs of people. The stylized water and cloud motifs and the depiction of the willows imbue the painting with the feel of a dream or an unmanned stage set.

The huge bridge seems to entice the viewer to step into the painting to cross it. The water mill is also a Buddhist motif, with its continual motion symbolizing the endless cycle of suffering and reincarnation. Despite all the resplendence, the painting also exudes an air of solemnity in the way it conveys a sense of the next world waiting for us, just on the other side of the bridge.

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