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Kanô Sansetsu (1589-1651)
The Reunion of Su Wi and Li Ling
Ink on paper

The story of Su Wu and Li Ling dates to the second century. The Han emperor of China sent Su Wu to negotiate with the barbarian tribes on China's northern frontier. They took Su prisoner, but he refused to cooperate with his captors, who forced him to herd goats in the wilderness for nineteen years. Below the barbarian's capital, which appears on the extreme left side of this screen, Su meets Li Ling outside the cave where he resides in exile. The Han emperor had also sent Li to negotiate with the barbarians, but unlike Su, he succumbed to their pressure and entered their service instead. This narrative, with its theme of unwavering loyalty and patriotism, was extremely popular among members of the warrior class in Japan, where devotion and duty to one's lord were crucial characteristics of samurai culture.

Chinese subjects, themes, and narratives were a specialty of Kanô painters. With this commission, Sansetsu situated the meeting of Su Wu and Li Ling in an exotic landscape that evokes the wintery northern extremes of China, where barbarian tribes of various ethnicities waged war on successive generations of Chinese rulers.

The Kanô family adopted Sansetsu upon his marriage to the daughter of Kanô Sanraku, his teacher. In the early 1600s, he became head of the school's Kyô Kanô branch, so named because it was centered in the city of Kyoto.

Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund; 91.17

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Copyright (c) 2000, Mayumi Ishida, All Rights Reserved Last Updated: April 11, 2000