Sumiyoshi Keishū, Falcons on Perches, a pair of hanging scroll paintings

Edo period, AD 1789

Falconry in medieval Japan, as in many countries, was a popular sport among those of wealth, rank, and power. Cranes were the favoured quarry. When caught, any meat was specially prepared and reserved for the feudal lord. The sport is thought to have been introduced from China, and the forms of the perch and the jess (the silk cord) can be seen in Chinese paintings of the twelfth century.

Many Japanese artists painted falcons, and such works would have constituted a kind of status symbol. This pair of scrolls displays the fine plumage of the birds, front and back, and the inscriptions written in courtly calligraphy above describe the colours and patterning of the plumage. The signatures to the inscriptions, just above the level of the perch, record the rank (kohō) of the man who wrote them, followed by his kaō (personal handwritten seal), not yet identified.

The artist's original name was Itaya Hiromasa (1729-97). He took over the duties of goyō eshi (official painter to the shogun) from his teacher, Sumiyoshi Hiromori (1705-77), also assuming the Sumiyoshi name, from 1773 until 1781, when he passed on the post to his son, Hiroyuki (1755-1811).

The signature on each scroll reads 'Sumiyoshi Keishū Fujiwara [no] Hiromasa gyōnen rokujū-issai hitsu' ('From the brush of Sumiyoshi Keishū, Fujiwara no Hiromasa, aged 61'). The seal reads 'Hiromasa no in' ('Seal of Hiromasa').

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Sumiyoshi Keishū, Falcons on Perches, a pair of hanging scroll paintings

  • Detail: signature and seals

    Detail: signature and seals


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Height: 1200.000 mm (each)
Width: 439.000 mm (each)

Museum number

Asia JA JP 164-5 (1881.12-10.0228-9)


William Anderson Collection


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