In this work, once owned by Masuda Takashi (1848–1938), an imperial messenger visits the priestess of the Ise shrines. There, a woman in the priestess’s service reads a poem expressing that she so desires to meet a man from the capital, she is willing to jump over the shrines’ sacred fence. The messenger responds with a verse that urges her to do so, because the gods would not forbid such love. While most illustrations of this episode feature the woman in the midst of the transgression, this work simply depicts the servant gazing at the messenger in an abstract landscape that juxtaposes large and distant trees with the torii(shrine gateway) of Ise. Only the man’s poem is inscribed above. Sōtatsu selected a visual option that neither showed the arrival of the desired man nor the woman vaulting from the shrine. He preferred to convey the tension of longing and desire.
The Sacred Fence, Tales of Ise, episode 71
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, ca. 1634
Poetry sheet mounted as hanging scroll
Ink, colors, and gold on paper
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. George H. Bunting, Jr., 74-37