Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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The sages Kanzan and Jittoku looking towards a poem


    • currently in research collection

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  • Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum by Janice Katz

    Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum

    The two sages Kanzan (Ch: Hanshan) and Jittoku (ch: Shide) grin widely at one another. Gessen has painted them as stooping figures with wild hair, appropriate for the legendary eccentrics. Kanzan is thought to be from the Tiantai mountains in China where he lived in seclusion. Jittoku was a monk who worked in the kitchen of a monastery, hence his attribute is always an old broom, seen here with its tip peaking out from behind him. It is said that from time to time, Kanzan would visit Jittoku and ask for food. They were an often-painted pair in China in Chan (Zen) circles, and became known in Japan when that pictorial tradition flourished in the Zen monasteries of the Muromachi period.

    Gessen inherited this tradition as a painter-priest himself, however of the Jōdo sect of Buddhism. He was born in Nagoya and first studied painting in Edo at the Zōjōji temple before staying in Kyoto for a time at the Chion-in. As a mecca for artists, Kyoto afforded Gessen an opportunity to explore a variety of painting styles. He became a student of Maruyama Ōkyo for three years, after which he studied the works of Yosa Buson (1618-1683) and Ike Taiga. In addition, Gessen copied works from China of the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as past Japanese masters of ink painting such as Sesshū. As head priest of Jakushōji temple in Ise, Gessen would sell his paintings to pay for temple repairs. He is known for his often satirical figure paintings that have elements of both the Nanga and Maruyama school styles.

    Usually, Kanzan points up to the sky, but in this fan, it seems as if he is gesturing towards the inscription to the left, a Chinese poem made up of four lines of five characters each which reads:

    In autumn colours at the heavenly terrace chanting poems,
    the living buddhas go hand in hand,
    Do not let the worn broom sweep them all away,
    the leaves are inscribed with poems.
    [My thanks go to Dr Cary Liu for providing this translation].

    The inscription is by Ichikawa Kansai, a well-known Chinese scholar and calligrapher from Gunma, and is signed ‘Seinei’, one of his literary names. He became the head of the official Confucian academy in Edo, the Shōheikō. He also served as a Confucian scholar in Toyama, and excelled in poetry to such a degree that he authored several

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