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Hoitsu's luxuriant rendering of early summer peonies is complemented by Chinese verse, which is itself replete with allusions to the role of the peony in the Tang dynasty (618-907) court.
A decorated balustrade keeps out the morning chill,
As if one were looking from the Aloeswood Pavilion.
As spring arrives, who is the overseer of the blossoms:
The peony, it is, who commands the fragrant throng.
Written by Feng Qi (1559-603), a scholar official of the late Ming dynasty (13681644), the poem refers to the peonies given to Prime Minister Yang Guozhong (died 756) by the Emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712-56). Within the Prime Minister's collection, crimson, white, and pink blossoms were considered the rarest; these are the very colors depicted by Hoitsu. Poems of the Tang dynasty also compare the voluptuous beauty of the emperor's mistress, Lady Yang (719-756), to the peony.
The careful union of image and text in this painting points out the high level of appreciation for Chinese classical literature in Hoitsu's circle. Kameda Ryorai, who transcribed the poem, was the son of Kameda Bosai (1752-1862) a distinguished Confucian scholar, painter, and calligrapher.
After sampling and mastering a wide range of current painting styles, Hoitsu returned to the treasures in his own household--works by Ogata Korin (1658-1716) commissioned by the artist's family in the early eighteenth century--and chose to celebrate and adapt the Korin style.
Translation by Stephen D. Allee
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