The Bird's Nest Patriarch

The Bird's Nest Patriarch



Tawaraya Sōtatsu 俵屋宗達

(Japanese, died c. 1640)

Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Image: 95.8 x 38.7 cm (37 11/16 x 15 1/4 in.); Overall: 187.3 x 50.8 cm (73 3/4 x 20 in.)

Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund 1958.289



Sōtatsu’s painting was inspired by a Chinese book of the late Ming dynasty that featured images of legendary Chinese Buddhist experts and Daoist sages. The monk portrayed here is Niaoge, literally "bird’s nest." He was an eccentric Zen practitioner who favored the isolation of treetops, from which he offered advice to the perplexed. Indeed, the posture of the single figure in the painting suggests dialogue with someone below.

Sōtatsu was a master of a "boneless" or unoutlined style of ink painting that relied on layered pools of ink wash for effect. A secular artist with no apparent religious motivation, Sōtatsu exploited the design potential of this bizarre subject, a monk whom the artist conjured up like a genie from a bottle.

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