The Zen Priest Choka

The Zen Priest Choka


Tawaraya Sōtatsu

(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


Sotatsu’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 Niaochao, 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.

Sotatsu 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, Sotatsu 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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