Sōtatsu’s Times: Perspectives on the Culture and Politics of Kyoto

Freer, Meyer Auditorium
Saturday, December 5, 10 am-5 pm

It Was the Best of Times to Be an Artist
Mary Elizabeth Berry, University of California, Berkeley

Extraordinary wealth and unsurpassed building projects propelled art production to industrial levels during Sōtatsu’s day. Competition and collaboration among artists and their patrons inspired both technical and stylistic invention in every art form—painting, calligraphy, printing, textiles, ceramics, lacquer, metalwork, drama, poetry, music, and more. This lecture situates Sōtatsu in a social context of unprecedented mobility and discovery, as makers of a new peacetime world were transforming not just the arts but mining and mathematics, cookery and crop selection, and more.

The Arts of Reinvention: Kyoto Culture in the Early Seventeenth Century
Morgan Pitelka, Carolina Asia Center and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

With the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo in 1603, the elites of Kyoto found themselves in an unfamiliar position: marginalized from the center of politics for the first time in two and a half centuries. The city’s artists and patrons responded with a collaborative zeal that embraced the patterns of the past to remake the fabric of the present. In the products and practices of Sen Sôtan, Hon’ami Kōetsu, and Kobori Enshû, among others, the city reinvented itself as the center of a vibrant new culture that drew on Chinese, imperial, samurai, and urban commoner precedents.

Sōtatsu, Kōetsu, and the Lotus Sūtra: The Religious World of the Kyoto Townspeople
Jacqueline I. Stone, Princeton University

Kyoto’s thriving mercantile culture supported notable artistic innovations, such as the works of Tawaraya Sōtatsu and his frequent collaborator Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637). Like a majority of the Kyoto townspeople (machishū), Kōetsu, and likely Sōtatsu, belonged to the Nichiren school of Buddhism. This school had been founded by the medieval teacher Nichiren (1222–1282) and was based on the Lotus Sūtra, celebrated for its message that all living beings can become buddhas. This talk explores connections between machishū artistic production and faith in the Lotus Sūtra, which is particularly well documented in the case of Kōetsu and his enclave of Nichiren Buddhist devotees. Later known as “Kōetsu village,” this community of artists and craftsmen aimed both to foster creative endeavor and to embody Nichiren’s ethos of “realizing the buddha land in this present world.” It flourished for more than two decades.

Sōtatsu and the Art of Mix and Match
Tomoko Sakomura, Swarthmore College

Tawaraya Sōtatsu is recognized for his inspired curation of images and compositions drawn from a wide array of sources, such as scenes from painted handscrolls and details of buildings. His work also features fluid play between painting formats of differing scale, such as fans and folding screens. Though Sōtatsu’s biography and training remain elusive, his work posits a painter with an enterprising attitude toward formats, conventions, and contexts of painting and calligraphy. To illustrate the visual dialogues that inform Sōtatsu’s paintings, this talk explores how the concept of “mixing and matching” shaped artifacts of the past and Sōtatsu’s present.

Sōtatsu and Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari)
Joshua S. Mostow, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

A tenth-century court classic, The Ise Stories (Ise monogatari) recounts the tale of Captain Ariwara no Narihira (825–880) and his romantic encounters with women throughout Japan. The 125 loosely connected episodes center on an exchange of love poems, each a demonstration of wit, sensitivity, and ideas of courtliness.This talk focuses on the unusually close relationship between Sōtatsu and The Ise Stories, exploring the sources of his imagery and the variety of media in which he produced “Ise-pictures” (Ise-e).