Great Confucian Masters and Sages: Confucius


Great Confucian Masters and Sages: Confucius

lacquer work / Edo

By Kano Sansetsu (1590-1651), By Kim Seryeom (1593-1646)

Edo period, dated 1632 (Kan'ei 9)

Color on paper


A bearded figure sits with an imperturbable air as he gazes forward with a gentle countenance. This is Confucius, a scholar and philosopher of China's Spring and Autumn period and the founder of Confucianism. The artist has drawn the hair, beard, eyebrows and eyes in meticulous detail. The soft, flowing lines of the garments also clearly hint at the existence of a bulky body beneath the ample clothing. This picture comes from a set of 21 paintings. These depict ten sages who pre-dated Confucius, Confucius himself and four followers, and six Song-period Confucian masters. Only Confucius is depicted sitting, which suggests this was the central work in the series.

These portraits were made for use at sekiten, a ceremony held to offer up food and alcohol to Confucius and other great Confucian sages. It was painted by Kano Sansetsu under commission from Hayashi Razan, a Confucian philosopher who supported the Tokugawa shogunates Confucianist policies at the start of the Edo period. The paintings were commissioned for use at a sekiten ceremony at the Senseiden, a Confucian shrine at Razan's Confucian academy in Shinobugaoka, Edo. The calligraphy was added four years later by Kim Seryeom, a vice Korean emissary.

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