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Helena Markus

Old Pine under the Snow
Two-panel screen
Inen Seal
Sotatsu Group (act. 1600-1638/39)
Edo period (1615-1868), 17th century
Ink, mineral and organic colours on gold leaf
H 140 x W 155

This elegant screen is graced by a pine tree that leans outward from a snow and moss covered rock on the left edge of the screen and extends laterally over the whole surface of the screen toward the top right-hand corner of the screen. The gnarled, moss covered trunk and the twisting branches are covered in snow. We are still in the middle of the winter since no other vegetation that might suggest the arrival of spring is present.

In Japanese tradition the symbolism of the pine that is twisted to resist the wind and snow, that withstands every storm represents the very essence of the manly endurance. The pine is also an evergreen and therefore symbol of long life. During the early Edo period the pine acquired political symbolism when the Tokugawa shogunate associated the long-lived pine tree with its everlasting hold on power. Its use as a painting subject reached an unprecedented extreme when the third shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651; ruled 1623-1651), commissioned the Kano school to decorate the Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle in time for the visit of Emperor Gomizunoo in 1626.

The pine is symbol of the New Year. At this time of the year, young pine trees, or kadomatsu, would be placed at the entrance of homes, heralding good wishes and an auspicious beginning to the New Year.

The pine together with the oak tree were called “saikanshohaku” (the winter oak and pine) and they are examples of friendship of those extraordinary people who in periods of great adversity and agitation always remain loyal.

all text, images Helena Markus


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