Painted Fan of Wang Xizhi

Josetsu15th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

Josetsu was a painter-priest who was active at Shōkoku-ji Temple in Kyoto under the Ashikaga shoguns. He is especially renowned in Japan for his masterpiece Catching a Catfish with a Gourd (Taizō-in Temple), which was painted by the decree of the fourth Ashikaga shogun Yoshimochi (1386–1428).
The present painting and Catching a Catfish with a Gourd are rare examples of authentic works by Josetsu. According to the inscription above the painting by Ishō Tokugan (1360–1437), a poetpriest of the Gozan (Five Mountains) literary scene, the tenth abbot of Shōkoku-ji, Daigaku Shūsū (1360–1437), originally had Josetsu paint on a folding fan, which his disciple Shikyō Zenko later had mounted onto a hanging scroll and requested an inscription from Ishō. Daigaku had also contributed an introduction to the earlier Catching a Catfish with a Gourd, suggesting that he had a close relationship with Josetsu.
The fan illustrates a scene from an anecdote about how the legendary Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi (act. early to mid-fourth century) brushed his calligraphy on fans for an old, destitute woman selling oval fans, causing her business to boom. However, Wang Xizhi refused when the vendor, having tasted success, asked him to do so a second time. The rendition of the celebrated calligrapher, the old woman, and the big tree was modeled after the jianbi ( J. genpitsu; “abbreviated brush drawing”) technique of the Chinese court painter of the Southern Song dynasty, Liang Kai (c. 1140–1210), and demonstrates precision and a command of thin, minimal lines. Moreover, the folding fan was cut and made to have an oval shape during its mounting in order to highlight the anecdote in the painting.


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