- 東海大学紀要. 文学部 (ISSN:05636760)
- vol.66, pp.35-49, 1996
Among the paintings left by Sakai Hoitsu (1760-1828), a late-Edo-period painter known for reviving the Rinpa (or Korin) school of painting in the city of Edo, is a singular work entitled Kannon (i.e., the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara). This work differs from the usual Oriental "white-robed Avalokitesvara" paintings in that Kannon is not shown holding in her hand either the standard lotus flower, or sprig of willow in a water jar. Rather, in front of her and to the viewer's right there appears a porcelain celadon vase in which five summer flowers - hollyhocks, pinks, lychnises, hydrangeas, and lilies - have been arranged. In contrast to india ink paintings of Kannon, the flowers in Hoitsu's work are richly colored, attracting and holding the viewer's gaze. It is known that the creation of Kannon was connected to the hundredth anniversary of the death of Ogata Korin (1658-1716). Korin was the prime mover behind the earlier flourishing of the Rinpa school and the painter most highly regarded by Hoitsu, who donated the work to Korin's family temple, Myoken-ji, in Kyoto, where it remains today. It has therefore traditionally been inferred that Hoitsu "arranged" the flowers in the vase in commemoration of Korin's death anniversary and that he used summer flowers because Korin died in June. What has never been clear, however, is why the five flowers noted above were chosen ; indeed, Hoitsu's Flowers in a Vase, painted for the same anniversary, contains the identical five kinds of flowers arranged in a water jar. Hoitsu obviously had a reason for selecting them. In my paper, I will attempt to discern what Hoitsu's intended meaning may have been. The particular flower or bird, or the particular combination of flowers and birds, found in an Oriental flower-and-bird painting ordinarily has an auspicious meaning associated with it, one that the members of the painter's audience will usually be able to identify owing to their shared cultural experience. No traditional, specific meaning, however, can be discerned in the combination of the five summer flowers in Hoitsu's two paintings. To unlock the meaning, I have investigated how the five flowers have been used in classical tanka and haiku poetry - in which Hoitsu himself was unusually well versed - beginning with the eighth-century Man'yoshu. For example, the combination of hollyhocks and lilies has traditionally meant, "We will meet in the next world" when it appears in classical poetry. I found other meanings for other groupings of the five flowers in question. In the course of my research it became clear that Hoitsu clearly did not use the five flowers merely to commemorate Korin's death in the summer ; being familliar with Japanese history and literature, Hoitsu put together his combination with scruplous care in order to express the meaning he desired. Another point of interest is that Korin was particularly fond of the hollyhock and, in fact, replaced his family crest with one depicting a stylized version of this flower. This helps explain why, in Hoitsu's two paintings, the hollyhock is placed highest in the shin position, the all-important central position in traditional flower arrangement. Modern critics tend to view the beautiful flower arrangements in the paintings of the Rinpa school, including the two works discussed here, as random combinations. This evaluation focuses on the beauty of the paintings' form, but essentially denies their interpretive value. However, I believe that the surprising hidden meanings woven into the paintings of the Rinpa school are one of the greatest sources of the paintings' appeal.