Deer scroll | Tawaraya Sotatsu and Honami Koetsu | Early 17th century
Sotatsu and Koetsu formed one of the most important artistic collaborations in the history of Japan.
Koetsu belonged to a family of swords polishers (in Japan, different people forge, polish and sharpen a sword), who worked for the Imperial Court. The artist was considered a “renaissance man”, because he excelled in several different crafts, such as sculpture, tea ceremony (cha no yu), and, most importantly, Japanese calligraphy (shodo), for which he was know throughout the Empire.
Sotatsu, instead, was a manufacturer of decorative papers and also supplied the Imperial Court. He was known primarily for his paintings and was famous for a technique called “wet on wet” that allowed him to paint on top of another paint still fresh. The Japanese admired the spontaneity of his painting since they recognized the difficulty in controlling this technique.
Both artists will associate to create works of art that combine the disciplines of Japanese calligraphy and painting. They will illustrate classic poems and, for 15 years, they will produce countless works of art. Sotatsu and Koetsu will become the germ of the Rimpa art school, which will be consolidated by Ogata Korin.
The Deer scroll illustrates a series of 28 poems from the New Collection of Classical and Modern Japanese Poetry, an anthology that began to take shape in the year 905 and was completed in 1439.
The extract shown here is the beginning of the series. At first glace, we can see that the Deer scroll shows the characteristics typical of the paintings from the Edo period: a composition consisting of a single motif, where empty space has the same fundamental importance as the area covered.
The brushstrokes from Koetsu’s calligraphy are firm and confident; Sotatsu’s deer, by contrast, is delicate and fragile. The search for balance is shown throughout the whole scroll which, although extensive, flows like music.
In this link, you can access the full scroll to see all the details and translations of the poems: