Court Ladies Enjoying the Four Elegant Pastimes
This set of two folding screens features a brightly-colored painting of several women. What do you think they are doing?
The “four pastimes” mentioned in the title are the zither, a board game called weiqi, calligraphy, and painting. The educated class in China was expected to pursue these pastimes. Intellectuals strumming the Chinese zither, playing weiqi, and appreciating literature and painting are motifs that often appears in paintings. Paintings of the 'Four Elegant Pastimes' usually feature men, but this painting uniquely features Chinese ladies instead.
Can you find the four pastimes within the screens? Some of these are depicted quite cryptically. See how many you can find. The motifs are also depicted differently; natural scenes of rocks and trees are drawn using ink, while the people and tables, for example, are colored.
Kaiho Yusho was a major painter of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, an era known for the magnificence of its culture. Yusho was a late bloomer; he was born into a samurai family and only started painting properly when he was in his sixties. His paintings are infused with the splendor of that age and his samurai upbringing is visible in the vigor of the powerful lines. Also of note are the rounded shapes of his rocks and tree trunks.