Thirty-Six Immortal Poets

Thirty-Six Immortal Poets

mid 1700s

attributed to Tatebayashi Kagei 立林何帠

(Japanese, active mid-1700s)

Two-fold screen; ink, color, and gold on paper

Image: 170 x 182.8 cm (66 15/16 x 71 15/16 in.); Overall: 174.4 x 187.2 cm (68 11/16 x 73 11/16 in.); Closed: 94 x 4 cm (37 x 1 9/16 in.)

Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1960.183



The "Thirty-Six Immortal Poets" were chosen by Fujiwara no Kinto (996–1075), a Japanese nobleman, scholar, and poet of the Heian period. He compiled a collection of the works of the 36 celebrated writers of waka (31-syllable poems) during the 7th to 11th centuries. From about the 11th century on, poetry and painting contests provided entertainment at fashionable gatherings, and the "thirty-six poets" became a favorite subject in Japanese art. These poets were traditionally portrayed in a dignified manner befitting their aristocratic rank, but in this interpretation they are unceremoniously packed together in a confining space. This engaging screen painting is done in the Rimpa style, emphasizing bold color, simple silhouettes, and asymmetrical compositions. Traditionally, individuality was not a quality emphasized in Japan; even in these "portraits" it is virtually impossible to distinguish who's who among the faces of the poets.

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