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Pair of Doors (Sugito)
Pair of Doors (Sugito), 17th century
Ink and colors on cryptomeria; mounted as sliding doors
Left Door [1966-211-12a,b]: 63 1/2 × 31 inches (161.3 × 78.7 cm) Mount (Left Door [1966-211-12a,b]): 69 1/2 × 36 inches (176.5 × 91.4 cm) Right Door [1966-211-11a,b]: 63 3/4 × 31 inches (161.9 × 78.7 cm) Mount (Right Door [1966-211-11a,b]): 69 3/4 × 36 1/4 inches (177.2 × 92.1 cm)
Purchased with the Fiske Kimball Fund and the Marie Kimball Fund, 1966
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About These Doors

These two sliding doors (sugi-to), which together present one image, are made of wood from the cryptomeria tree, a Japanese cedar. They come from a set of twenty doors that may have been designed for a palace residence. In traditional Japanese interiors, characterized by the interplay of art and architecture, columns supported the weight of the roof, leaving the wood or paper (fusuma) walls to be moveable.

On the right-hand door, a Japanese courtier (person in attendance at a royal court) rides a gray horse through powdery falling snow past an ancient pine tree, which arches over the horse and courtier like a canopy. Dressed in a brightly colored robe and black hat, the courtier raises his long sleeve to shield himself from the snow. His dappled gray horse, fitted with a black saddle and red trappings, paws at the ground. The snowy ground continues onto the surface of the other door, which is more sparsely decorated with a small clump of snow-covered bamboo.

In contrast to the detailed painted figures and trees, the wood in the background is left unpainted, allowing its rich, natural beauty to show through. In places, the wood grain itself reads as falling snow. Diamond-shaped gilded door handles feature the three hollyhock leaves (aoi) used in the crest of the Tokugawa (toh-ku-gah-wah) family, who were shoguns (military rulers) during the Edo period (1615–1868). Perhaps these colorful doors were part of a decorative interior wall in one of their residences.

Japanese Interiors

In traditionally built Japanese interiors, columns support the weight of the building, allowing the walls to be lightweight and movable. Walls are often made of a series of sliding doors, which can be opened, closed, or removed, depending on the activities going on in the room. For example, by taking out the sliding doors, one can transform small rooms for sleeping into a large banquet room.

Doors can also be decorated, providing artistic delight to the room. Like the Courtier on Horseback, the doors are usually painted with a naturalistic scene—a landscape, folktale, or famous epic tale. Most interior sliding doors are made of paper-covered, wooden lattice frames. The Museum's sliding doors are unusual, because the paintings are applied directly to the wooden surfaces. Simply painted sliding doors complement the rest of the house's interior, where scant furniture or other ornamentation would be present.

Regard for the natural environment is consistently reflected in Japanese nonreligious architecture. Architects try to humbly respond to the elements of nature—weather, geography, and natural resources—and create a harmonious relationship between the building and the outside environment. The painted designs on these sliding doors reinforce these natural qualities.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Japan, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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