Install Theme

William Morris / Edward Burne-Jones

Winchester Cathedral


Maple Tree and Small Birds, c. 1765–1766
J. Kōyō shōkin zu
c. 1765–1766 (Meiwa 2–3)
142.4 x 79 cm
Seals: (Top, square intaglio),”Tō Jokin’in”
(Bottom, square relief), “Jakuchū koji”

from Itō Jakuchū, Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766, Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo


Upon first glance, Maple Tree and Small Birds appears to represent an exception to the trend toward whimsy that increasingly characterizes later scrolls in the Colorful Realm set. Both in subject matter and composition, this work recalls classical norms for Japanese painting, especially in the patternlike, frontal depiction of each maple leaf; when taken together as a group, the leaves appear to be floating on a watery surface. The two blue-and-white flycatchers (ōruri) facing each other among the branches add a musical element to this bright fall scene. In Jakuchū’s environment, such a scene would have been readily encountered among the precincts of Kyoto’s many temples and shrines during midautumn.

Closer inspection, however, uncovers a number of Jakuchūesque elements. The highly mannered and repetitive depiction of the tree branches suggests a composition designed more with a parabolic compass than with a free hand. Also, moving downward, successively smaller branches with the same degree of curvature shoot off one another. On the longest of these branches, another notably implausible form—a ring—is found near the left edge of the painting. Such rare branch-rings were viewed as auspicious occurrences, and the presence of one here is in keeping with the general optimism of the scroll. 

The characteristic of Maple Tree and Small Birds most in keeping with the overall profile ofColorful Realm is, without doubt, the attention paid to the precise representation of color. Each leaf is meticulously crafted to reflect different stages of development, from brightest red to nearly brown. Even a single leaf can slide from opacity to transparency across its surface. Varying hues of red, orange, and yellow were generated by layering mineral and organic pigments in different combinations on both the front and back of the silk ground. Over 90 percent of the leaves in Maple Tree and Small Birds are depicted with verso pigmentation, including some that consist only of cinnabar pigment (shinsha) on the back. The recent conservation of Colorful Realm clarified the presence and role of verso coloration in the diagonal light rays in the lower-left quadrant of the painting. These rays reveal that the intent of this scroll is to depict the momentary brilliance of sunlight hitting autumn foliage, resulting in an eruption of color and luminosity, a true embodiment of “liquid maple.”

The presence of the square (not round) relief “Jakuchū koji” seal in the lower right, noted by Ōta Aya, is unique among the scrolls in Colorful Realm. Because the same seal appears in several ink paintings that can be attributed to the painter’s disciple Jakuen, Ōta suggested that Jakuen may have played a significant role in the crafting of Maple Tree and Small Birds.1 This observation is interesting in light of how little is known concerning Jakuchū’s disciples. Although Jakuchū is normally represented as a singular artist working alone, a 1787 account of a visit to his studio reports the presence of four assistants. Paintings by disciples such as Hakusai, Shōchū, Ichū, Shochū, and Yōchū have survived, although the works are not distinguished and none of the disciples succeeded in carrying on Jakuchū’s painting legacy. Among them, only Jakuen produced notable works, and he (as well as other assistants) may well have played an important complementary role throughout the creation of the Colorful Realm of Living Beings.

1 See Itō Jakuchū Dōshoku sai-e zen sanjuppuku (Tokyo, 2010), 1:90



Roses and Small Bird, c. 1761–1765
J. Bara shōkin zu
c. 1761–1765 (Hōreki 11–Meiwa 2)
142.7 x 79.6 cm
Signature: “Painted by Jakuchū of the Studio of the Expansive Spirit”
Seals: (Top, square intaglio), “Tō Jokin’in”
(Bottom, round relief), “Jakuchū koji”

from Itō Jakuchū, Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766, Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo


The rose is typically not included among the classical cultural flora of East Asia, but its appearance in literary and artistic representations goes back many centuries. The extended bloom of the so-called Chinese rose (Rosa chinensis) earned it an association with longevity and the sobriquet Flower of Eternal Spring (C. changchunhua, J.chōshunka). Throughout East Asia varieties of the Chinese rose were often pictorialized with other motifs to convey wishes for continuous good fortune, and the specific combination of the rose with the Chinese bulbul (C. baitouweng, J. hakutō’ō) and Taihu rock was understood to form a rebus wishing married couples long life and happiness (C.changchun baitou).1 Although the lone bird in Roses and Small Bird has not been identified and differs in minor details from the standard features of a bulbul, the combination of motifs here may have been modeled on a Chinese work that formed this established word puzzle.

Jakuchū’s composition appears to showcase three different rose varieties. The peach-colored flower with multiple petals and a full appearance resembling peonies is a variety of the Rosa chinensis popular in Japan and known there as kōshinbara. The large white variety with double-lobed leaves is a Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), whereas the smaller white roses tinged with pink are examples of the baby or rambler rose (Rosa multiflora). Their combination fulfills the painter’s general preference for flowers with a white, pink, and red tonal range. While the frontal depiction of the flowers follows traditional habits of representation in Japanese court painting and crafts, a lone white blossom at top center faces the other way. Such singular “outsider” motifs are common in Jakuchū’s allover compositions.

Two of the three types of roses depicted, the Cherokee and rambler, are scrambling shrubs that climb over other plants to achieve a considerable height, as in the present work. The Chinese rose, however, is a more traditional shrub that tends not to behave as a climbing plant. Jakuchū’s composition therefore contains an element of irreality in treating its floral protagonists as creepers that rise beyond the top edge of the picture plane and cascade downward in bunches, much like panicles of wisteria or other familiar hanging vines. The broad, abstract strokes of the ground plane; exaggerated form of the Taihu rock with its starlike mossy surface pattern; and frontal depiction of most of the flowers determine the highly decorative and contrived air of Roses and Small Bird.

Unsurprisingly, careful pigment analysis suggests that Jakuchū paid remarkable attention to detail and subtle coloristic effects. The white-petaled roses are depicted with a layer of shell-white powder (gofun) on the back of the silk, complemented by modeling on the front with shell white at the outer edges of the petals. This modeling fades toward the inner portion of the petals, resulting in beautifully transparent effects that are modulated with touches of green and pink, and with colorful stamens at the center. The leaves skillfully combine thin veins of malachite green (rokushō) with layerings of organic-green pigment punctuated by red spotting. Jakuchū made abundant use of the latter pigment, a red brown (taisha), for the stamens and thorns as well; indeed, as work on the Colorful Realm series advanced, he shifted away from mineral-red pigments.

Numerous commentators have suggested that the lone bird — which appears to be acknowledging the artist’s signature — is a portrait or avatar of Jakuchū.

1 Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006), 220


Shabti box of Paramnekhu with shabtis, ca. 1279–1213 B.C., from the Tomb of Sennedjem

Essential items of funerary equipment from the New Kingdom on, shabti figures, of which there could be from 1 to over 400 examples in a single tomb, were meant to substitute for the deceased whenever he or she was called upon to perform manual labor in the afterlife. One example here is inscribed with a version of Spell 6 from the Book of Coming Forth by Day (better known as the Book of the Dead):

O, shabti… if I be summoned…to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead…you shall act for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks, or of conveying sand from east to west: ‘Here I am,’ you will say." (after Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead). The others bear the name of the deceased with whom they were associated. (MET)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 86.1.14-group.


# 1553 “A Tidy Sum” (by scottbergeyart)


Jan Kath

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Paul Klee, Tief-Ebene, 1932

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 Jugend Magazine

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Aubrey Beardsley, gilt design for La Morte D’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, 1927. Via dreweatts

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Let’s see the Iron Fleet take on this bad boy.

From Roberto Valturio’s De Re Militari (1472)

Valturio was an assistant to Sigismondo Malatesta, the famous feudal ruler of the Italian city-state of Rimini. This book is considered to be the first printed work to contain illustrations of a scientific or technical nature.

Reblogging this oldie but goodie because a) the illustration is very cool and b) my gratuitous SOIAF reference.

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Paul Klee (Swiss:1879-1940), Portrait de Mme. Gl., 1929

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Mark Bradford (American, b. 1961), An Opening On The Left, 2010. Mixed media collage on canvas, 121.9 x 152.4 cm.

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