Niaoke, referred to in Japanese as Chōka, was a Chinese priest in the late Tang dynasty (618–907) and was said to meditate in treetops. He is perhaps best known for his exchanges with the Chinese poet Bai Juyi (772–846). Although some paintings capture both figures in dialogue, this work depicts Chōka alone; it is based on the 1602 Ming publication Marvelous Traces of Immortals and Buddhas (Chinese: Xianfo qizong). Sōtatsu is believed to have studied the ink-painting methods of the thirteenth-century Chinese monk-painter Muqi (1210?–1269?). His own compositional skill, combined with his mastery of Muqi’s approach to ink work, animates the otherwise drab book illustration in Marvelous Traces of Immortals and Buddhas. The Tawaraya studio obtained a copy of Marvelous Traces of Immortals and Buddhas soon after it was issued and produced a large number of ink paintings based upon the book’s illustrations. The Cleveland work ranks as one of the most accomplished.
The Zen Priest Chōka
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, early 17th century
Ink on paper
Cleveland Museum of Art, Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund, 1958.289