- Museum number
Painting, six-panel screen, one of pair with 1965,1012,0.2. Plants of spring (cherry blossom) and summer (deutzia), with sun above and brushwood fence in foreground. Ink, colours, gold and silver on paper.
- Production date
- Mid 16thC
Height: 162.50 centimetres
Width: 55.50 centimetres (closed)
Width: 230 centimetres (open (approx))
Width: 324 centimetres (open (straight))
Depth: 11.30 centimetres (closed)
Depth: 1.80 centimetres (open)
- Curator's comments
'Sun and Moon' screens have survived in a number of examples from the medieval period into the early Edo period (17th century). Some were used in the ritual context of the esoteric Buddhist ceremony of 'Washing the Buddha' (kanjo); others appear to have had Chinese Daoist cosmological associations. Later examples became increasingly decorative in character, as seen here. Plants of the four seasons (right to left) grow exuberantly around stylised brushwood fences, as if in some humble rural setting. The weave of the brushwood was first built up with gesso and then painted with gold and silver. The forms of the brushwork show elements of both Chinese-influenced and native schools. (Label copy, TTC 1996)
It is a particular feature of Japanese screen painting that the full cycle of the four seasons is often shown within a single composition. In the case of the late medieval genre known as 'Sun and moon' screens, seen here, this is further overlaid with day and night within the same pictorial space.
There are resonances with ancient Chinese 'yang' (bright, active) and 'yin' (dark, passive) cosmology, and early Japanese screens with landscape motifs were used in Buddhist ritual. Here the seasons each have their signifier: cherry (spring), deutzia ('unohana', summer), maple (autumn), and snow-covered bamboo (winter). But in the British Museum screens this profusion of nature is deliberately controlled and contained with man-made brushwood fences that cut boldly across the screens and are given brilliant decorative finish with gold and silver paint. (Label copy, TTC 2000)
Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 1
This pair of screens depicts the mountains and water and various other scenic elements of the four seasons. The right-hand screen also shows the sun, and the left-hand screen a half-moon, which makes this work one of the so-called "sun-and-moon screens" that were common from the Muromachi period through the Edo period. Many examples of this type of work survive today.
In Japan the pairing of sun and moon has long been associated with the the 'Onmyodo', or Way of yin and yang, but art historians have interpreted the use of this combination as it appears in the visual arts from a variety of religious and aesthetic perspectives.
Another representative example of a sun-and-moon painting is the 'Sun and Moon, Mountains and Water' in the collection of the Kongo-ji temple, which was very likely originally used in the esoteric Buddhist purification ceremony at that sect's Mikkyoji-in temple.
This work is striking in the simplicity with which it expresses the different seasons with only a cherry tree or a snowy mountain, adding to this the elemental motif of the sun and moon. Its liberal use of gold and silver leaf makes this a decorative painting, while its atmosphere of restraint reveals something of its roots in the esoteric tradition.
While these screens at the British Museum share a good deal with Kongo-ji work and others in the mainstream sun-and-moon tradition, they also introduce some completely new elements. For instance, objects are depicted from a much closer viewpoint than usual. The presence of a rough-woven fence drawn in the foreground introduces man-made objects into the "natural" landscape, thrusting a more modern viewpoint into the world of landscape painting.
The screens, which could also reasonably be categorized as a scenic view of a mountain village, are generally associated with the sun-and-moon paintings that emerged soon afterwards. These later works - for instance, one formerly held by the Maeda family and another in the collection of the Shoko-ji temple - included elements such as wooden fences or walls in their depictions of flowering plants of the four seasons, while demonstrating a new interest in large-scale renderings of various types of flowers. The present work, rooted more firmly in the landscape tradition, can therefore be seen as transitional.
The application of gold in paintings of the sun and crescent moon is commonly accomplished by one of two techniques: direct application of gold leaf, and the scattering of small pieces of gold leaf or gold dust over the surface. This pair of screens belongs to the latter group. The artist fills the top portion with light-brown cloud formations, then adorns the land, first applying small pieces of gold leaf over the surface in decorative patterns and then fixing rather large sheets of gold leaf over some areas. The fence is rendered with delicate lines produced by laying gold paint over liberal amounts of whitewash. Hence, a good deal of technical expertise and innovation is evident in these screens.
However, given the artist's hesitant use of ink brushwork and halfhearted impulse toward stylization, it is difficult to place these screens directly within the tradition of painters strictly working in the Chinese style. The unknown artist freely incorporated elements of the Japanese and Chinese styles of painting popular in the Muromachi period.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2015 – 2016 4 Dec – 29 May, National Museum of Singapore, ‘Treasures of the World’s Cultures’
2000 24 Mar-26 Jun, London, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan Time'
2010 Feb-Jun, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2013 Apr – Oct, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.381 (Japanese Painting Additional Number)