Anthology with Cranes

Tawarawa Sōtatsu / Inscription by Hon'ami Kōetsu17th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

Tawaraya Sōtatsu (n.d.) painted the gold and silver design, over which Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637) has brushed waka (Japanese poetry) verses by the celebrated poet Kakinomoto Hitomaro and others from the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets collection.
The beginning of the scroll shows a group of cranes flocked on the ground. Eventually they fly off and out of the pictorial space, only to successively descend back into the painting. They then glide over the sea before suddenly veering up above the clouds, fluttering down to the sea again, and finally coming to rest with their feet in the water. The artist creates a breathtaking sense of dynamism in the cranes’ flight as they soar away and then descend again. As many viewers have pointed out, the sequence of the cranes’ movements has exactly the same impact as an animation strip.
Sōtatsu used gold pigment for the birds’ beaks, legs, and parts of their wings, with all other areas painted in silver. His elegant rendering of forms with minimal brushstrokes is truly stunning. At the beginning of the scroll, the land is painted in long sweeping areas of gold, but later varying intensities of gold pigment are used to express the clouds and haze above. The artist skilfully uses gold, along with silver for the ocean waves, to create a marvelous sense of change in the elevation of the cranes in flight. Major differences in height are depicted. This sophisticated composition manages to defy the upper and lower limitations of the handscroll format and superbly exploits the long, horizontal pictorial surface.
In modern parlance, this is a superb collaboration between the painter, Sōtatsu, and calligrapher, Kōetsu. 


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