Paintings / Muromachi

By Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506?); inscriptions by Sesshu Toyo and six monks

Muromachi period, dated 1495 (Meio 4)

Ink on paper




National Treasure

Sesshu was a representative Japanese painter from the Muromachi Period (1392–1573). He painted this work when he was 76.

The landscape is drawn with different shadings of black ink. The artist has used very broad strokes, and some may say it's hard to tell exactly what the picture depicts.

At the top, soaring cliffs are seen faintly in the distance. The darker splash of ink in the center shows a low hill in the foreground. At the bottom we see a closer hill and the becalmed surface of the water. The scenery appears more distant the higher up the painting it lies. This is a distinctive feature of Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings known as sansuiga.

If you look closely, you can see a building on the nearest hill. Can you see the branch-like object springing out from the eaves to the right? This is a flag signaling that the building serves food and drinks. A boat can also be seen on the water.

Let's take a look at the Chinese characters above the painting. The lower section is the most important. This was written by Sesshu himself. It says the picture was painted by Sesshu at the request of his disciple, Soen, to mark the end of Soen's training. Sesshu also writes about himself and how he learnt to paint under the tutelage of two famous Chinese painters. Soen took the finished painting to several temples around Kyoto. The two sections above are poems written by six celebrated monks from these temples. The poems add a certain beauty to the finished article. This is an extremely valuable work for learning about Sesshu. It also affords us a glimpse into the life of Zen monks at that time; of their cultural exchanges and their love for paintings and poetry.

Related Works

Search items related to work chosen