The four seasons with the sun and moon, a pair of 6-fold screen paintings

Momoyama period, late 16th century AD

This pair of screens is painted with motifs of the four seasons. On one screen spring is represented by cherry blossoms, and summer with various appropriate flowers. On the other are red maple leaves of autumn and finally bamboos weighed down with the snows of winter. However, the composition differs from a traditional 'flower and bird' painting, since the design is unified across both screens by the foreground of decorative bamboo and brushwood fences, suggesting the landscape setting of a village.

The paintings contain a number of symbolic elements. Spring and summer are marked by the sun, the ancient symbol of the male Yang () seen here through branches of pine, another male symbol. The crescent moon of autumn and winter represents the female principle of Yin (in) and appears here with the feminine maple. Both sun and moon were also representative of Buddhist and Shintō deities and these screens, like others of their kind may have had some importance in Esoteric Buddhist purification ceremonies at a temple.

This painting is probably by an independent machi-eshi (town painter) working broadly within the Yamato-e tradition, who used elements from both the Tosa and Kanō schools. The fences are covered in gold and silver leaf over built-up moriage (gesso). Small pieces of gold foil and gold-dust have been dusted over the surfaces of sun and moon, while further down the composition the artist uses a combination of pieces of gold leaf and some larger sheets. Gesso covered with white has also been used for the snow and white flowers but this has lost much of its brilliance.

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More information


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

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


Height: 1473.000 mm (each)
Width: 3010.000 mm (each)

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD381-2 (1965.10-12.01-02)



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