Soga Shôkô, about mid-17th
Pine, Bamboo and Plum
Ink and gold wash on paper
This exceptionally large pair of byôbu,
each consisting of eight panels rather than the standard six,
depicts the "Three Worthies" or "Three Friends":
pine, bamboo, and plum. The pine symbolizes endurance and longevity,
the bamboo reflects strength and flexibility, and the plum evokes
purity of character. In Chinese painting, the source of this
theme, these qualities epitomized the scholar-official class
that served the government in various ways. Japan had no direct
equivalent of this class, but the samurai, de facto rulers of
Japan from 1180 to 1868, appropriated the symbolism of the three
worthies. The "Three Worthies" theme appealed to samurai
because their culture was based on feudal relationships overlaid
with Confucian ethics. Zen monks, whose arduous practices often
extended over an entire lifetime, were also drawn to this theme,
evident in the Byaku-e Kannon Triptych in the first gallery.
Soga Shôkô has created a work
of remarkable elegance and power. Both the pine and the plum
twist in and out of the golden mist as they spread laterally
across the surface of the screens. Shôkô used the
folds of the byôbu to accentuate these movements.
The bird that swoops down toward the pine carries the upward
gesture of the long plum branch from the right to the left screen.
Shôkô's repertoire of washes and brushstrokes adds
a remarkably rich variety of textures to the bark, branches,
and leaves of the pine and plum. His calligraphic rendition of
the bamboo, with each spray of leaves slipping in and out of
the mist, is a technical masterpiece in and of itself.
Ackland Art Museum, The University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund; 87.11.1