A spectacular 27-foot-long scroll, decorated with gold and silver wood-block designs of ivy, grasses and wisteria, and brushed with classical Japanese love poems in graceful calligraphy, is the newest addition to the collections of East Asian Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Created by Hon'ami Koetsu, a central figure in Japanese arts at the turn of the 17th century, the scroll is devoted to Love Poems from the Shinkokin wakashu Imperial Anthology (c. 1610). Koetsu's scroll will be seen by U.S. audiences in The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, the first-ever comprehensive survey of the artist's work outside Japan, which will be on view at the Museum from July 29 through October 29, 2000.
This important acquisition was made possible through the generosity of the East Asian Art Committee. The effort was launched with a generous contribution from Committee member William B. Hollis, Jr., and was enthusiastically supported by the Committee, under the leadership of its chairperson, Mrs. Howard H. Lewis. The acquisition of the Hon'ami Koetsu scroll celebrates the Museum's forthcoming 125th anniversary, in the year 2001. A committee of Museum Trustees and staff, chaired by Harvey S. Shipley Miller, is charged with seeking spectacular gifts of works of art for this occasion.
Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637) has been likened to Leonardo da Vinci -- "a versatile genius in whom all the arts and refinements of his day seemed to find their confluence." In modern parlance, Koetsu could be described as an "art director" par excellence. He collaborated with other outstanding artists of his day to breathe new life into traditional formats such as handscrolls and lacquers. Koetsu revolutionized the visual effects of classical poetry scrolls, working with the artist Tawaraya Sotatsu to produce striking designs, over which Koetsu brushed his distinctively bold calligraphy. The Museum's newly acquired scroll features 12 poems written in Koetsu's calligraphy over Sotatsu's gold and silver design of seasonal foliage, which is stamped on sections of paper dyed varying colors made and mounted as a handscroll by Kamishi Soji, a master papermaker. Koetsu often worked with Soji, and the latter's rectangular seal appears on the paper's backing.
Now some 27 feet in length, the scroll may have originally been longer, but suffered fire damage at an unknown date. Its careful restoration, undertaken in Japan in the 1980s, deliberately retained the signs of damage, and thus emphasized the beauty of age and wear, rather than deny or disguise the work's history. This is beautifully evident in the section of the scroll decorated with mehishiba grasses, where brown smoke stains could be read as fireflies.
Owing to the delicate nature of works on paper, the new scroll will not be on permanent exhibition at the Museum. American audiences will have the rare opportunity to see Koetsu's scroll, together with other outstanding examples of his work, in The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, an exhibition of more than sixty objects, ranging from calligraphy and printed books to ceramics and lacquerwork. Dr. Felice Fischer, The Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Acting Curator of East Asian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, initiated the project and has overseen its development, in cooperation with the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, and The Japan Foundation. The exhibition is supported in part by generous grants from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Initial funding of the exhibition was provided by the Luther W. Brady, Jr., Endowment for Japanese Art Research Support.
Koetsu's interest in calligraphy led him to design beautiful lacquer boxes to hold the essential tools of East Asian writing: brush and inkstone. One such lacquer box, with a characteristically bold motif of a single deer on a striking gold and black background, and featuring Koetsu's original use of lead inlay and a domed lid, is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and will alo be featured in the upcoming exhibition.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art's extensive collections of East Asian Art date to the American public's fascination with all things "Oriental" evident at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and were formalized as a curatorial department in 1917. The Galleries feature an evolving array of installations, drawn from the Museum's rich collections, that illustrate and explore the many facets of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, Persian and Turkish art. Exquisitely painted scrolls and screens, decorative arts and modern design, as well as evocative period structures such as a Ceremonial Teahouse, present the achievements of Japanese artists from the 12th through 20th centuries. Fine examples of Japanese art are illustrated and described in A Handbook of the Collections, which was first published in English by the Museum in 1995, and recently issued in Japanese.