Yoshitoshi 芳年: Sugawara no Michizane 菅原道真 Composes an Early Poem Beneath a Plum Tree

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Artist: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) 芳年
Title: Sugawara no Michizane 菅原道真 Composes an Early Poem Beneath a Plum Tree 
Series: One Hundred Aspects of the Moon 月百姿
Date: 1886

Sugawara no Michizane 菅原道真 was a ninth  century polymath who served emperor Daigo  in numerous high-ranking posts. Michizane’s spirit held such power that after death he unleashed vengeance upon those who had slandered him, causing death and destruction until the monk Nichizo settled the matter with the late emperor by visiting him in hell.  Michizane became deified into the Shinto deity Tenjin, the god of music, literature and calligraphy. Schoolchildren in Japan still visit shrines to him to request help in excelling in their studies. Here we see the young Michizane as a boy of eleven, composing the following poem: “The moon glimmers like bright snow/ and plum blossoms appear like reflected stars/ ah! the golden mirror of the moon passes overhead/as fragrance from the jade chamber fills the garden.” (Translation by John Stevenson). Michizane was known for his love of plum blossoms, which bloomed in early spring, providing an early glimpse of the beauty of the coming months. Stevenson calls the depiction here of the gnarled old plum tree as a “tour de force”, with the trunk and branches drawn in ink brush style and the plum blossoms showing only as negative space. 

Condition: Very good impression; excellent color and condition. 
Dimensions: ôban 35.6 x 24 cm
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon
Literature: John Stevenson, Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (San Francisco: San Francisco Graphic Society, 1992), number 16. See Portland Art Museum, Library of Congress, Yale University Art Gallery.
Seal: Taiso
Signature: Yoshitoshi