This renowned set of poetry cards marks Sōtatsu’s transition from a decorator of sophisticated background papers to an accomplished painter. In his designs of grasses and flowers, he incorporated a more explicit realism, with thick and thin brushstrokes and lavish applications of silver and gold pigment. The silver has darkened, diminishing what must have been a remarkably iridescent, reflective surface. Kōetsu’s quotations from the circa 1205–10 Shinkokin wakashū (New Anthology of Poems Past and Present) overlay each image. The poems cover the seasons but in a curious ratio. Kōetsu chose thirteen spring, five summer, twelve autumn, and six winter poems. Of all the Kōetsu-Sōtatsu collaborations in this format, this set comes closest to linking poems to seasonally appropriate images. In addition, the roughly 2:1 ratio of spring-to-summer and autumn-to-winter images corresponds to the arrangement in the Shinkokin wakashū, yet another example of the care the two men gave to this creative process.
Poem Cards with Designs of Flowering Plants of the Four Seasons
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637), calligrapher
Japan, early 17th century
Set of 36 cards
Museum für Asiatische Kunst der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gift of Gustav Jacoby, 0243