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Calligraphy of a Poem

Hon'ami Kōetsu, Japanese, 1558 - 1637

Made in Japan, Asia

Edo Period (1615-1868)

Early 17th century

Gold, silver, and ink on paper; mounted as a hanging scroll

7 1/2 × 6 3/4 inches (19.1 × 17.1 cm) Mount: 33 3/4 × 11 3/4 inches (85.7 × 29.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
East Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Henry B. Keep Fund and with gifts (by exchange) of Mrs. Andrew B. Young, Mrs. Henry W. Breyer, Sr., and Karen Myrin, 1988

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This shikishi is among the small number of poem cards with a verse from the Wakan roeishü (Collection of Japanese and Chinese Poems to Sing). Koetsu chose most of the verses from this anthology for the handscrolls he executed after he moved to Takagamine in 1615. In this example, the choice of the poem not only foreshadows Koetsu's later years, but the lines of the calligraphy exhibit some shakiness, indicating that it was brushed after Koetsu began to suffer from slight palsy.

   A mountain temple
Evening and the sunset bell,
   Whose every voicing
Vibrates with a message sad to hear:
"Today too is over, dusk has come."
Wakan roeishü 585
Author unknown

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Hon'ami Köetsu was one of the most versatile artists of his time, admired above all for his talent as a calligrapher. His great achievement was to create a new style of calligraphy through a synthesis of the Chinese-influenced style with elements of the classical Japanese writing tradition of the Heian period (794--1185). The poem on this scroll is from the "Collection of Chinese and Japanese Poems for Recitation," originally compiled around 1018, and reads: "How melancholy to hear/Today too has ended/With each ringing/Of the evening bell/At the mountain temple." The verse is written on paper decorated with a sparse scene of a silver river under a sky of abstract clouds in gold wash, most likely also done by Köetsu. The whole is surrounded by another painted layer of iridescent gold and silver, lending an opulent effect to this diminutive work. Felice Fischer, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 44.

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