Priest Yantou in a Boat

Artist: Shokado Shojo 松花堂昭乗 (1584-1639)
Calligrapher: Kogetsu Sogan (1574-1643)
Historical period(s)
Momoyama or Edo period, early 17th century
Ink on paper
H x W: 28 x 52 cm (11 x 20 1/2 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

boat, Buddhism, Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, kakemono, Momoyama period (1573 - 1615), priest
Provenance research underway.

A collaborative work by two Buddhist monks, this painting and its inscription refer to the story of the ninth-century Buddhist priest Yantou Quanhuo, who had retreated from the widespread persecution of Buddhism to become a ferryman. Yantou exchanged questions and answers with those who joined him to cross Lake Dongting, but few answers satisfied him. The enigmatic inscription by Kogetsu Sogan, an abbot of the Daitokuji, reads from left to right:

With indolence he faced the purge [of Buddhism];
The lake water laps along a humble boat.
He ferries more people coming than going;
His wide open eyes see wind and mist.

(Adapted from a translation by Yoshiaki Shimizu)

Sogan, an accomplished calligrapher known for his large-character style, had broad contacts within artistic circles in Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan.

It is possible that the painter Shokado Shojo, a priest of the Esoteric Shingon Buddhist sect, had seen an older version of this subject in a Chinese illustrated handscroll through his association with monks of the Kyoto Zen Buddhist monastery Daitokuji, who presided over a large art collection. Shokado was also an accomplished calligrapher whose aristocratic family connections are reflected in the style of his calligraphy seen in the handscroll exhibited in this gallery. His collaboration with Sogan for this work reflects the importance of Buddhist monks in the cultural life of early seventeenth-century Kyoto.

Published References
  • Julia Murray. A Decade of Discovery: Selected Acquisitions 1970-1980. Exh. cat. Washington, 1979. cat. 50, pp. 66-67.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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