Sugawara no Michizane in Chinese dress, a hanging scroll painting

Japan
Muromachi period, late 15th century AD

Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) an outstanding cultural figure of the Heian period (794 -1185), is still widely regarded in Japan as the patron of scholarship. He was a scholar of Chinese and also a politician who rose to be Minister of the Right, one of the highest ranks in the government of the time. However, he was exiled to Kyūshū as the result of a conspiracy of the Fujiwara family. After his death in exile there were several disasters in the capital of Kyoto which people believed were caused by his angry spirit. He was therefore reinstated and raised to the rank of a Shintō deity (renamed Karai Tenjin) and the Kitano Shrine was founded in his memory. In the Muromachi period (1333-1568) there was a revival of interest in kambun (Chinese-style writing) and Michizane's reputation was re-established as the greatest Japanese poet who had written in the Chinese language.

This Muromachi-period painting shows Michizane in pure Chinese dress holding a small branch of plum blossom, the badge of a Chinese scholar-gentleman. His Chinese appearance may be a reference to the legend that he studied Zen in China after his death. One of his poems is inscribed at the top of the painting.

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More information

Bibliography

I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)

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

Dimensions

Height: 710.000 mm
Width: 293.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP 1 (1913.5-1.038)

JCF4831

Arthur Morrison Collection
Gift of Sir W. Gwynne-Evans, Bt.

Location

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