Sōtatsu: Making Waves

Master Poet Motokata

Master Poet MotokataThis painting depicts the “poetry immortal” Ariwara no Motokata, a courtier-poet active in first half of the tenth century. The figure manifests Sōtatsu’s distinctive and graceful style, in which each line begins with little inflection at its head, thickens in the middle, and thins out in the end. The composition is based upon the tradition of depicting Motokata in paintings associated with “Poetry Match of Poems from Different Eras” (Jidai fudō uta-awase), an imaginary competition among poets from different time periods. The earliest-known illustrated versions appeared in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). It is clear from minute details that Sōtatsu was working from a medieval version. But compared to Kamakura period examples, his poet portraits have longer, fuller faces, with less severe expressions and a gentle air. The softening of earlier ink-painting styles was one of his characteristics.

Master Poet Motokata
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, early 17th century
Hanging scroll
Ink and color on paper
Private collection

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