Some seventy different types of grasses, flowers, vegetables, and shellfish fill the surfaces of this pair of screens. Bouquet-like arrangements set on a gold background indicate a decorative intention, but closer examination reveals technically careful and delicate renderings and a complex coloration that aims for realism. This painting is at once bountiful and charmingly encyclopedic. It bears the I’nen seal; thus, it is likely a studio work that responded to the heightened interest in botanical subject matter in seventeenth-century Japan—during Sōtatsu’s later years and for many years afterward. Plant life emerged from its traditional role as seasonal indicator and metaphor for ephemerality and became something admired for its inherent beauty. The Tawaraya atelier maintained significant connections to taste-setting patrons at the court, merchants, and warrior elites and served those groups with gorgeous and accurate studies of plants.
Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons
Sōtatsu school, I’nen seal
Japan, ca. 1620–50
Pair of six-panel folding screens
Color and ink on gold leaf on paper
Asia Society, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Acquisitions Fund, 1985.001.1-2