Millet Fields under Sun and Moon

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Artist unknown

Millet Fields under Sun and Moon, 17th century

Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper
each 165.3 cm x 366 cm
Restricted Gift of The Rice Foundation, 1989.625a-b




Washed in bright sunlight on the right, a field of millet is adorned with leaves painted with a vibrant green malachite, while on the left the browned leaves of the plants nestle together under the moonlight.

Lacking both a signature and any identifying seals, these screens are likely the work of an artist from the Tosa school of painting, who, although unknown to us today, was highly accurate in his botanical rendering of the fields. Tiny white dots of shell-white pigment (gofun) form a patterned surface across the full heads of grain. Viewers who sat on tatami mats surrounded by these screens would have felt as if the billowing mass of each field was like a comfortable blanket that they could pull over themselves at night.

The pairing of the sun and the moon on screens dates back several centuries and carries Buddhist, Daoist, and Shinto associations. But its combination with edible grains, as seen here, is a 16th-century innovation that is perhaps the result of improved farming technologies and seed strains that caused agricultural yields to increase.

Rotation 2: August 15-September 27, 2009