Album of the New Thirty-Six Immortal Poets


Album of the New Thirty-Six Immortal Poets

Paintings / Edo

By Kano Tan'yu (1602-74)

Edo period, dated 1664 (Kanbun 4)

Color on silk



This is an example of a kasen-e, or a painting depicting famed historical poets of Japanese waka poems. These works feature portraits of the so-called immortal poets accompanied by their poems. This Album of the New Thirty-six Immortal Poets depicts 36 poets who were chosen by Emperor Gotoba during the Kamakura period. These are introduced across two booklets, known as the Right Booklet and the Left Booklet. Each two-page spread features a poet and one of their representative poems. With the Right Booklet, the poet is painted on the left page and the poem is written on the right page. This order is reversed in the Left Booklet. When the two booklets are lined up and the pages turned simultaneously, the poets appear to face each other across their respective poems. Perhaps the purpose was to create an imaginary poetry contest between the pair.

This album was a gift from the Minister of the Right, a government official at the time, to his daughter, who was marrying into the shogunal family. The paintings are by Kano Tan'yu. He was active at the start of the Edo period and he became the first official painter of the Edo shogunate. The delicate, elegant depictions of the clothes, hair and facial expressions have been rendered using an elaborate color scheme. The poems were also written by renowned members of the nobility at that time. This magnificent, resplendent work was certainly a fitting gift for a shogunal wedding ceremony.

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