Saian / Bird on a Snow-Covered Plum Branch / Muromachi period, early 16th centurySaian
Bird on a Snow-Covered Plum Branch
Muromachi period, early 16th century

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Creator Name: Saian
Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Dates/Places: Active late 15th-early 16th century
Creator Name-CRT: Saian
Title: Bird on a Snow-Covered Plum Branch
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1500
Creation End Date: 1599
Creation Date: Muromachi period, early 16th century
Creation Place: Japan
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: ink on paper
Parts and Pieces: hanging scroll
Dimensions: 54 x 19 3/4 in. (137.2 x 50.2 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.212
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Chinese-style ink painting, which was first introduced to Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), had a profound impact on the art of the Muromachi period (1392-1568). The history of painting during that period is marked by the spread of Chinese techniques and themes from the temples affiliated with Zen Buddhism--where such works were often used in meditative or ritual practices--to the studios of professional painters who were not necessarily associated with a religious institution and who had various patrons. In the 15th century, ink painting gained a cultural cachet as it moved out of the religious context and acquired a wider audience.

This painting of a Bird on a Snow-Covered Plum Branch by Saian illustrates one of the styles of ink painting popular in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A singing bird perches on a snow-laden plum branch; the blossoms indicate the arrival of spring. A seal reading Saian is impressed in the lower right corner. Very little is recorded about this artist, who is known to have painted bird and flower paintings as well as scenes of hermitages nestled in Chinese-style landscapes. Saian was a Buddhist priest associated with the famous Shokokuji in Kyoto. The Shokokuji, which was part of the Five Mountain or gozan system of temples, played an important role in the introduction of the Chinese technique of monochrome painting to Japan. Some of the most influential artists of the Muromachi period--including Joetsu (active early 15th century), Shubun (active 1423-1460), and Sesshu (1420-1506)--resided, at least for some period of time, at the Shokokuji, and the styles of painting developed by artists associated with this temple had a formative influence on the art of subsequent periods.

The powerful and expressive brushstrokes in this painting--seen for example in the areas of wet (dark black) ink used to depict some of the bird's feathers and some of the buds on the plum tree--are characteristics often found in the art of Sesshu and his followers and would indicate that to some degree the elusive Saian was influenced by the most prominent styles found at the Shokokuji. Sesshu and his followers represent the development of a Japanese ink-painting aesthetic characterized by a sense of drama and an interest in strong compositional designs. However, the interest in immediately and intimately capturing a small slice of nature while still suggesting the inevitability of growth and change found in this painting by Saian also illustrates the continuing influence of Chinese aesthetics on the art of the Muromachi period.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 95.
Related Document Description: Shimada, Shujiro, ed. Zaigai hiho (Japanese Paintings in Western Collections). Tokyo: Gakken, 1969, vol. 1, fig. 127.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 148, 149.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 101, 142.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.212
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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