The composition is a well-established type: a complex of temple buildings is tucked into a mountainside, on the shore of a broad body of water, with mists rising to obscure the distant peaks. The artist provides a path leading from the viewer’s space to the temple. Two travelers go before us, a hooded figure riding a donkey over a rustic bridge, and another man striding along on foot, further ahead. The temple buildings themselves are hidden behind thick foliage, as if protected from the secular world.Here the forms of the rocky outcroppings, the trees, and even the mountains are starkly outlined, and there are strong contrasts of light and dark. These features suggest that this is a work of by a professional Kanô School artist, probably of the seventeenth century.
This painting depicts an imaginary scene in south China, the home of the great monasteries where several influential Japanese Zen monks studied in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This painting also bears a false seal of Shûbun, one of Japan's most admired landscape painters of the fifteenth century; but in this case, the type departs radically from the elusive, dreamy quality we associate with Shûbun today.
A shabbily dressed figure holds out at arm’s length a small fish. He is completely focused on his catch, and his mouth almost seems to drool. The face, hands, and feet are sketched in a deliberately simplistic way, while the costume is drawn with only a few swift slashes of the brush, and the strokes bleed into each other.
Among the new categories of imagery introduced to East Asian art by Zen is that of the “eccentric.” A Zen eccentric defies the restrictions of the human body or the basic norms of Buddhist behavior, and in so doing demands that we question our ready assumptions about logic and reality. Artists reveled in the chance to paint eccentrics, and these works are often full of visual wit and humor.
From the traditional Buddhist standpoint, the subject is eccentric because he is violating a taboo against the consumption of flesh. The Zen view is that distinctions between ostensible opposites—vegetable, non-vegetable—are illusory.
In this painting, the hawk perches on the base of a tree, gripping the knotted bark with its talons. Its back is presented to the viewer, bringing attention the impressive patterning and feather detail. Arching its head to the right to reveal a keen awareness of its surroundings coupled with a razor sharp glare, it appears ready to take off after unsuspecting prey.
In the Momoyama and early Edo (1615–1868) periods, the statuesque and intrepid hawk was a favorite painting motif for patrons from the warrior class, who kept and used hawks for hunting. It was often depicted on folding and sliding screens and this painting was perhaps originally mounted as a screen.
A plump sparrow is perching on a bamboo branch, which is bending from the main branch on the left side of the painting. The bamboo has young and mature leaves. The background is left as blank. The mounting is made of creamy silk brocade with blue green silk brocade strips. Brown brocade pieces are pasted on the top and the bottom of the mounting. There is a seal in red ink on the left corner. Wrinkles on the top and right lower side of the bid; some smaller worm holes and one large hole underneath the bird, but all repaired.
The combination of a bird and bamboo here is a favored subject matter in Japanese ink painting called "bird and flower" painting ("kachôga"). Painters of Kanô school (official painting school of the samurai class in Momoyama and Edo periods) executed many paintings in this category.
A small figure is shown near a ship on the water. A building or house is partially hidden by hills. Trees, mountains, and clouds are strewn across the landscape with bold brishwork.
This hanging scroll is one of a pair that was handed down in the collection of the Kuroda family, lords of a major domain in western Japan, near the area where Sesshû spent the last part of his life. It may be an image of a small fishing village in summer.