17th Century Japanese Screen. Ink Plum Blossoms by Priest Hozobo Kojo.



‘Plum Blossoms’

Hozobo Kojo (d.1644)  豊蔵坊孝仍

Early Edo period, circa 1620

2 Panel Japanese Screen. Ink and gold leaf on paper.


H. 64 cm x W. 124 cm (25” x 49”)

Price: USD 18,000

A small Japanese folding screen by the early 17th century monk and painter Hozobo Kojo. 

This painting of a plum blossom is poised between representation and abstraction and has a very strong graphic quality. It is an expressive combination of contrasts: animated, playful buds rest on sharp branches that burst upwards; deep, puddled ink washes loosely define the trunk. The delicacy and fluidity of the brushwork combined with the heavily atmospheric puddling of ink reflects the strong relationship between calligraphy and painting.

Monks such as Kojo, like literati painters, shunned commissions and instead chose to make their paintings for private use, or as personal gifts. This unique work bears the inscription, ‘Painted for my precious mother’, and provides a direct window into their relationship. The artist has chosen subject matter laden with literary, philosophical and personal meaning. Rather than imitating external reality he was concerned with exploring inner thoughts and emotions. The rendering of the ancient trunk makes the signs of new life in the buds and slender branches seem miraculous, recalling the virtues embodied in the plum: perseverance, humility under adverse conditions, and renewal.

The ink has been puddled using the ‘Tarashikomi’ technique: a technique where additional ink is dropped onto undried ink to create a complex blurring effect. This technique was particularly favored by Tawaraya Sotatsu of the Rinpa school. Sotatsu, along with Honami Koetsu created the decorative painting style of Rinpa during the first half of the 17th century. The tarashikomi technique, along with the use of gold and silver were hallmarks of their decorative style. It is easy to imagine that the artist here, Kojo, was directly influenced by these formative Rinpa artists. Kojo was a fellow priest and close friend of the towering cultural figure Shokado Shojo. Shojo was very talented in various fields including calligraphy, painting and the tea ceremony. He was friends with many cerebrated intellectuals and artists of that age. They were active at a vital time when the nature of Japanese art changed from medieval to pre-modern.

Hozobo Kojo (d.1644) was the chief priest of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine. He particularly excelled at calligraphy and painting which he studied with Shokado Shojo. He was a teacher of Hozobo Shinkai. 

The screen has been fully conserved and remounted in Kyoto utilizing traditional craftsmen and techniques.