Safety in Numbers
March 16-May 31, 2023
Two recent acquisitions inspired the exhibition Safety in Numbers: a Heian-period image of Shō Kannon from a staggering group created and enshrined in the Kōfuku-ji in Nara until recent times and an impressive Ming-dynasty fahua porcelain jar featuring eight immortals ” Numbers matter and are manifested in various ways. While a Tang period white amphora, such as the one in the present exhibition, might stand secure in its own regal beauty, it is not alone in the world of Chinese ceramics, where its family is extensive. Two stalwart soldiers from the Six Dynasties period proudly represent their platoon. A kosometsuke dish of the early 17th century with incised qilin décor seems to stand alone, almost unique. Still, it exists within an enormous fold of Jingdezhen porcelains destined for markets abroad. Japanese paintings open a world of safety in numbers, whether at a horse or fish market or in an intimate group of masters of haiku poetry, brought together in a work by Yosa Buson (1716-1784). A 16th-century Chinese painting of the jovial Pudai shows him celebrated by a band of happy children while the Qing-dynasty painter Zhang You captures a troop of monkeys at play in a remote mountain environment. For more, please visit Kaikodo's website show from 16 March to 31 May 2023.
Heian period. 12th century
Height: 47.1 cm. (18 1/2 in.)
Recently: A Japanese private collection
Since the Nara period in the 7th century, Buddhist advocates would commission and dedicate to their temples large sets of paintings or sculptures comprised of images closely related in form and style, sometimes numbering as many as one thousand. The Shō Kannon here was a member of such an entourage, one of a multitude of similar icons produced contemporaneously and enshrined since the mid-12th century in the Kōfukuji in Nara and originally housed in the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas. In modern times, in the early 1900s, when funds were required for temple repairs, these images were sold and a good number of them are held today in museums in Japan and a very limited number are outside of Japan.
Shō Kannon is the original, principle, unchanging Bodhisattva or Bosatsu of Compassion, known also Avalokitesvara or Guanyin. The slender figure is standing upright in full frontal posture on the two-tiered original lotus pedestal carved separately and mounted on a base that was not of the original assemblage. Layered drapery lays flat against the body. A scarf pulled straight across the back and over the shoulders cascades into loops over the legs. A sash crossing diagonally over the chest while a short jacket covers a long skirt that hugs the legs down to the narrow bare feet. The delicate fingers of the left hand hold a lotus while the right hand is in a gesture representing patience. The clean lines and geometry of the dress are carried into the hair with two swags over the forehead, the hair piled into a pointed chignon, and the head fitted with a simple wreath-like crown. Downcast eyes shaded by heavy brows carved in smooth gentle curves from the bridge of the nose and a small mouth with pursed lips add to the sense of great serenity. Most of the pigment and what seems to be a coating of dry lacquer has flaked or worn away revealing the grain of the hinoki (cypress) from which the figure was carved while gold leaf survives in relative abundance for such a figure.
Ming dynasty, late 15th century
Height: 32.5 cm. (12 4/5 in.)
Diameter: 32.7 cm. (12 7/8 in.)
A Japanese collection
The term fahua, literally “ruled design,” is the name for ceramics produced by way of an extraordinary technique in which raised strings of slip trailed on the clay body before firing was used to outline motifs that were then brought to life through the application of colored glazes. The decoration on this heavily potted jar, constructed in three horizontal sections consists of detached ruyi heads on the neck, quatrefoil clouds on the shoulder, a procession of eight figures through a cloudy sky in the main body zone and contiguous upright ogival panels forming a fence around the base. The immortals identifiable through the attributes they carry are a female with a lotus [He Xiangu], a male with a fan [Zhongli Quan], another with a gourd [Li Tieguai], one holding a sword [Lü Dongbin], another possibly a jade tablet [Cao Guojiu]. The yellow, turquoise, aubergine, and white alkaline glazes stand out against the dark cobalt blue of the background while the faces of the figures, along with all other exposed skin, were reserved through wax resist, resulting in the buff color of the fired clay simulating natural flesh tones. The interior of the vessel is coated in a dark green glaze while the thick foot and recessed base are unglazed exposing the sturdy porcelain body.
The extra-terrestrial figures, airborne amongst clouds, were popular subjects on fahua ceramics, the perfect dressing for the large guan jars, which were fashionable as storage jars, perhaps for wine, and as decorative accoutrements as well. While the majority of the figures are identifiable, the others are more reticent, hiding their identities within their sleeves or just out of sight. Their number “eight,” however, suggests that the traditional Daoist assemblage was the intention of the decorators.
Tang dynasty, 8th century
Heights: 62.9 cm. (24 3/4 in.) & 59.5 cm. (23 3/8 in.)
The two hybrid creatures, zhenmushou tomb guardians, alternately qitou, are each seated upright on a horseshoe-shaped plinth, full frontal, rigid, menacing. Supported on stiff frontal legs locked at the knees, one with bovine hooves, the other with claws. The shoulders are high, wide and squared, their chests puffed up and thrust forward, their svelte lower bodies resting on haunches and each with a ridge of spikes lining the spine terminating in a tail. Their huge heads are planted on neckless bodies, one with roughly feline characteristics, the other more human in nature. The first is characterized by a single tall central horn flanked by pointed upright ears rising from the skull and erect, flat, hood-like projections flanking the head. Massive brows shade the sunken eyes. Its wide mouth opens to reveal huge teeth The other is equipped with a single upright horn, large undulating leaf-like ears stretching horizontally from the sides of the head, the eyes deeply sunken, a pig-like snout and mouth pulled into a scowl. The buff-colored earthenware bears remnants of the original pigment, mainly the green still intact.
Tomb-protecting agents were a necessity to secure graves against unwanted comings and goings. The physical appearance of animal or human-like members of such an entourage changed with time and locale but always present with a sense of steadfast purpose and to a greater or lesser degree with fearsome intention. Closely related guardian figures in materials, construction, and style have been recovered from Tang-period tombs in Henan province, for example in Gongyixian, suggesting the most likely date and provenance for the present pair. Two is the dominant magic number for such figures, the pairs of beings providing, it was hoped, sufficient protection, although further individuals could be added to the retinue, a bow to safety in numbers.
Tang dynasty, 8th century
Height: 20.3 cm. (8 in.)
Diameter: 16.5 cm. (6 1/2 in.)
A Japanese collection
In Safety in Numbers we have included a number of Tang-period stoneware vessels and have chosen the ewer here to represent that group. The globular body is supported on a solid base, trimmed around the periphery to form an everted foot. A tall trumpet neck rises vertically to a wide, strongly everted mouth finished with a thick rolled rim. The bold handle is comprised of a thick double-cord attached at the lip rim with four round, ball-shaped rivets, the handle arching low to the shoulder where a similar single rivet marks the point of attachment. A wide cylindrical spout is mounted on the opposite side. The brownish-black glaze—smooth, opaque and softly lustrous—covers the upper majority of the body, falling in very subtle swags above the unglazed, lower body, the off-white color also visible on the unglazed base. Quite complex in structure and color, the glaze consists of densely accumulated speckles ranging in color from lighter to darker reddish brown within the black substratum, resulting in various descriptions of this type of glaze including even “tea dust.”
The shape itself is very conservative, reminiscent of the globular chicken-headed ewers produced in the Yue region of Zhejiang province by at least the 4th century, where black-glazed stoneware simultaneously originated. By the Tang dynasty the production of such glazes was widespread including at kilns in Anhui, Henan, Shandong and Shanxi A number of ceramics previously attributed to these areas have been reattributed based on extensive excavations of the Tang-dynasty Huangpu kiln in the Yaozhou region of Shaanxi province, a vicinity most acclaimed for the production of so-called “Northern Celadon.” The present ewer can likewise be attributed to the Huangpu kiln given its similarity to excavated vessels. It might also be noted that the broad-based, short-spouted form was perfectly suitable for preparing the steeped tea then in fashion and accounts for the volume of production.
Ming dynasty 14th-15th century
Diameter: 14.7 cm. (5 3/4 in.)
Height: 8.0 cm. (3 1/8 in.)
Box inscription: 古青磁 見込牡丹 茶碗
“An old celadon tea bowl with a peony inside”
A Japanese collection
The thick walls of the deep bowl rise with a gentle bend from a narrow, incurved. rounded ring foot to a slightly thickened lip rim. The thick glaze covers all but a wide donut-shaped area on the recessed base where the bowl was supported on a ring during firing and where the light grey stoneware exhibits a glistening surface with reddish ferruginous patches from firing. The sea-foam green glaze is thick, semi-translucent, and the surface smooth with a luminescent sheen. Just visible beneath the glaze in the well is an impressed, intaglio image of a peony surrounded by leaves, intentionally obscured beneath the glaze to create a mysterious anhua, or “hidden decoration.”
When a treasured Song-dynasty Longquan celadon bowl that had suffered damage was returned to Ming China by its owner, Yoshimasu, the eighth Ashikaga shogun (1435-1490), requesting a replacement, the Japanese envoy was told that that was impossible. Such bowls simply could no longer be made. The Song vessel then was returned having been repaired with some unsightly metal clamps that, however, entranced the Japanese. The dark metal fasteners conjured images of locusts, and hence, the name, Bako-han, “locust clamps” and the eventual elevation to its status as a National Treasure
The present type of bowl is as close as the Longquan potters of the early Ming would get to such illustrious Song antecedents. While under early Ming imperial patronage, during the Hongwu and Yongle eras, the products, as demonstrated by finds at the Dayao Fengdongyan kiln, include the large-scale vessels that were especially popular in the Middle East, as well as bottles, vases and bowls more easily suitable for use at the Chinese court and among the Chinese aristocracy. Numerous bowls have been recovered during excavations of the early Ming kilns, which have been called official or “imperial” kilns because of orders and supervision from the court as well as remains with imperial reign marks. A number of finds from such sites are in close accord to the present and the simplicity of shape, purity of glaze, and anhua decoration form a sisterhood with certain early Ming porcelains from Jingdezhen also reflecting imperial oversight.
Dongson culture, 1st century BC–AD 1st century.
Axe: length: 12.5 cm. (4 7/8 in.)
Spearhead: length: 11.8 cm. (4 5/8 in.)
Hoe: length: 9.5 cm. (3 3/4 in.)
Jochen May and Stephan Graf von der Schulenburg, Die Nachbarn im Suden Fruhe Keramic und Bronze aus Vietnam, Museum fur Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, 1998, no. 82a, illustrated on p. 112; bronze stone container, no 82, illustrated on p. 111.
The twenty-one stone implements were skillfully shaped and worked, the surfaces polished to a satiny smoothness and soft sheen. They range in color from black to greys to subtle shades of moss and gray-green. Daggers, spearheads, arrowheads, a variety of miscellaneous blades, axes and a hoe, appear to emulate metalwork, suggested by such features as the median crests similar to those on metal blades and the small depressions that approximate the rivets on metal blades, as well as projections from the sockets that seem to mimic the wooden shafts that would have been affixed to the blades. Such metalware implements are associated with Vietnamese Dongson and other Southeast Asian cultures, as well as with Chinese agricultural and hunting equipment from such southern provinces as Guangxi and Guangdong dating to the late Zhou and Han period
The migration of metal to stone in regard to tools or implements might seem an unusual direction but understandable if the stone objects were intended for ritual use and interment with the deceased. The present stone objects were stored in a bronze bucket for burial. The thin-walled bronze, the shape, and the cast thread-relief geometric designs allies the vessel with a large family of buckets found across a swath of northern Vietnam and south and southwestern China and in contexts datable from around the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The vessels have been discovered in burials within Guangdong’s Nanyue kingdom in which such vessels were found to contain bone, turtle remains and shells. Cowrie shells were the main contents of vessels found in the Dian kingdom in Yunnan and in Dongson burials in Northern Vietnam the containers were found to contain metal or stone implements, as in the present case.
(1st half 17th century)
“Serried Mountains” 濟峰圖
Hanging scroll, ink and color on satin
193.0 x 63.0 cm. (76 x 24.8 in.)
“During winter of the year 1611 I arrived at the Pavilion of a Thousand Deer and met the cold from the heavens that froze my hands; I could not work (well).”
Feihua ru Yantian (“Flying flowers enter the inkstone field”)
The monumental composition features dynamic groves of trees in the river-side foreground, a stream-side village in the middle ground, and extensive, serried peaks rising above. The composition is mainly symmetrical, arranged around the vertical and horizontal axes of the painting, harking back to 10th-century styles and also to their 14th century, Yuan dynasty revivals. The brushwork recalls that of Wu Zhen and his Ming follower Shen Zhou89 and identifies the artist as one who was very knowledgeable about historic styles and yet one who creatively extended that hallowed literati tradition into the late Ming era.
Xu Boling was born in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, into an eminent literati family. His father, Xu Hongze (1551-1625 or later) was a well-known calligrapher and painter, a friend of Chen Jiru and Li Rihua. Boling based the juren examination in 1620 and served as a teacher in a provincial school. Accomplished in poetry and painting, in 1629 he contributed to a joint album along with Xiang Shengmo.
"Pleasure within an Orange" 橘中之樂圖
Hanging scroll, ink on paper
108.0 x 29.3 cm. (42 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
"Painted spontaneously by the Pilgrim of Three Peaks (Taiga)."
Colophon by Ekai Duisōzu (1701-1765):
"In cups of gold the spring brew is hot,
from the earthen brazier comes the scent of tea;
White-bearded old Daoists
face each other over the stones for go.
'Pleasure within an orange'
for long the firm foundation of Heaven and Earth,
deeply rooted for numberless years.
During the first month of spring of the year 1764
within the Hōreki era, inscribed by Ekai Daisōzu."
Taiga Kazan Meisaku Ten ("Exhibition of Famous Paintings by Taiga and Kazan"), Yamagata: Yamagata Newspaper, 1952, pl. 42;
Ike Taiga Sakuhinshū (The Complete Works of Ike Taiga"), Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1960, pl. 178.
Kōnoike collection, Osaka
According to the Yugui Lu, “A man from Baqiong (Sichuan) had an orchard of orange trees. After a frost, the oranges were all harvested. Some were as large as a three-peck basin. The man regarded these with great wonder and then cut them open; within each were two old men, their hair and eyebrows white and their bodies a luminous red. Each was playing chess with another, and they went on talking and laughing as before. One of the old men said: ‘Pleasure within an orange is not less than that on Shang Mountain; however, not having deep roots and a firm foundation, (the orange) can be plucked by any fool.’ The story became so wide-spread that the expression “pleasure within an orange” came to have a very specific meaning: “When asking a person to play weiqi, one says: ‘Do you want to enjoy pleasure within an orange with me?’ The painting thus illustrates the story with great inventiveness and humor and would have been an ideal gift for any friend of the artist who shared his pleasure in that captivating game. The recipient may in fact have been Ekai Daisozu (1701-1765), who in 1764 inscribed the painting.
“Pleasure within an Orange” makes a strong appeal to our imaginations and emotions, conjuring thoughts and feelings that go beyond the objective matter of the painting, and in that sense the work is a perfect manifestation of the literati ideal, brought to us by one of the greatest of their number, Ike Taiga,
"One Hundred Yakko" 一百奴圖
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
125.0 x 57.7 cm. (49 1/4 x 22 3/4 in.)
Kubosō Memorial Museum of Arts: Kazu no bijutsu-Kazoete tanoshimu higashi Ajia no bijutsu, Izumi, 2010.
These hundred yakko—low-ranking servants of samurai households—served the daimyo and are here portrayed in a procession marching from their homeland to Edo. In the foreground a group of yakko have already begun marching while in the middle ground others are still preparing, braiding their hair, donning straw slippers for travel, seeing to ladders, and worrying about rain. Adding a dollop of humor to the work, some yakko are gambling, fighting, shaving, cooking or walking in snow in the far ground. This portrayal of the daily life of yakko is most interesting and yields a glimpse into their activities. Yakko were not bonded servants but were hired for one year, half a year, or one month, and after completion of their service would work for a different employer.
Tamate Tōshu (1795-1871) was born in Osaka and was called Suisen’nin, “the drunken immortal,” because of his drinking habit. A pupil of Nankai Ranko (1766-1830), Tōshu produced mostly landscape and figure compositions that are characterized, as here, by gentle and casual brushwork and a humorous approach to the subject.
"Gathering of Ghosts and Demons" 妖快圖
Hanging scroll, ink on paper
148.5 x 50.5 cm. (58 1/4 x 19 7/8 in.)
Kikai ("Unusual and rare"); Jiiken yuji ("Someone is in the pavilion that sometimes leans")
Ten ghosts and demons are gathered together occupying themselves in a variety of unexpected activities. The three in the foreground lean over a stone platform on which is displayed an archaic bronze-form beaker and two ceramics. One scratches his head while pointing at a vessel, their expressions and attitudes something of a parody of connoisseurs at work and play. Another group of three figures occupies the middle ground, the fox-like figure about to open a scroll while the others gather round. Somewhat above and behind this group a figure turns away, leading the eye of the viewer to the last group of three placed in the background. One rides a toad-like creature with the legs of a camel and another wields a sword in good samurai fashion. The whole engenders the distinct impression that the artist intended to satirize contemporaneous society and some of its self-conscious activities. The three figures in the foreground, for example, would seem to refer to three important social classes of the day, a hat-wearing aristocrat, a warrior with top-knot, and a monk wearing a robe.
Takai Kozan was born into a Nagano family that for several generations had produced a high-quality sake. Because of their business, the Takai had close relations with feudal lords as well as aristocrats; their house was large enough to accommodate more than one-hundred family members, servants, and guests. The immensely creative artist Hokusai (1760-1849) visited Kozan a number of times and the family owned several hundred sketches of birds, flowers, insects, as well as other subjects that were done by Hokusai that served Kozan as models for learning to how to paint.
After the founding of the Meiji era in 1868, Kozan began to paint only ghosts and demons, reportedly seeing a swarm of monsters appearing one after the other when he closed his eyes. Assuming some correlation between Kozan’s paintings and the social transformation required by the advent of foreigners in hitherto isolated Japan, it would seem that the focus of his satirical images has more to do with the recent arrivals than with locals. In his latest paintings hirsute, bearded, and grotesque figures strut and pose as if on a stage, emphasizing the distance between them and Japan proper.
"Fish Market" 海鮮市場圖
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
85.9 x 57.5 cm. (33 7/8 x 22 5/8 in.)
“Ken Kon (the trigrams for Heaven and Earth). (The Emperor Shen Nong) established a market at noon, causing all the people beneath the heavens to gather all the goods beneath the heavens and exchange them before returning home, each having achieved their goals. This must have been done on the basis of the trigrams shi-shi.
This occurs in the chapter jici of the Yiqing (“Book of Changes”). Note: Shen Nong taught the people living along the rivers and on the seacoast to catch fish and turtles, and he taught woodcutters in the mountains and valleys to gather firewood, and then to exchange these for what they have not. This, then, was the origin of markets. Tetsu-gai.”
TWO ARTIST’S SEALS
Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924) was the last great proponent of the Nanga literati style. He was born in Kyoto, the son of a wealthy dealer in priests’ robes. When the family fortunes declined, Tessai was sent to live at the Rokuson’o Shrine, where he studied Shinto as well as Buddhism, Confucianism, and classical Japanese literature. Although intending to become a scholar, by the mid-1820s Tessai also began painting. The most important early influence came from Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), a talented poet-nun who hired Tessai as a personal assistant for her ceramic endeavors and later promoted him to writing her calligraphic compositions on the wares. Basically, Tessai was self-taught as an artist, using the various classic and contemporary styles he came across to form his own, very idiosyncratic style.
Associated with those working for the imperial Restoration, Tessai fled to Nagasaki in 1859 in order to escape arrest and while there began serious study of Nanga painting. Enormously prolific, the “Picasso of the East,” Tessai largely portrayed subjects taken from Chinese and Japanese classical literature and legend. His style was very individual, with strong and expressive brushwork and color applied in a free and bold fashion. The element of humor is often important in his paintings, and the effect, as here, is extremely engaging.