Painted wooden figure of the artist Sesshū Toyō, by Miwa

From Japan
Edo period, AD 1787

Japan's most celebrated ink-painter

Portrait sculpture became an important art-form in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The subjects were usually aristocrats, military men and monks, and the sculptures were made to be venerated by later generations in temples, palaces or great houses. However, over the centuries, portrait sculpture gradually became more popular. In the Edo period especially, when society had become more stable, such portraits were commissioned by samurai, artisans and the newly prosperous merchants. They were kept in a miniature shrine in the home, shop or workshop and were therefore usually small.

The portraits were often made long after the death of the subject. This portrait of Japan's most celebrated ink-painter, Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506), was commissioned by a certain Kakehi Chōtetsu almost three hundred years after the painter's death, and is, therefore, a measure of the strength of his reputation. It is based on a painting of Sesshū in his Zen priest's robes by Kanō Eisen'in Tenshin (1730-90). It is only 23.5 cms high, including the stand. Kashinsai Miwa is better known today as a carver of netsuke.

The figure is lacquered and painted, with crystals for the eyes.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)


Height: 23.500 cm (including stand)

Museum number

Asia JA 1981.6-12.1



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