Landscape of the Four Seasons

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Sesson Shukei
Japanese, c. 1490-after 1577

Landscape of the Four Seasons, About 1560

Pair of six-panel screens; ink and light color on paper
Each: 174.2 x 357.2 cm
Gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1958.167-168




The artist Sesson Shukei was a Zen Buddhist monk-painter who achieved his idiosyncratic painterly style during an itinerant career in eastern Japan, seemingly without traveling to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural and political capital at the time. His Landscape of the Four Seasons is the only work in the exhibition from the 16th century. Sesson’s dreamlike Chinese landscape expands before our eyes in understandable spatial depth, an effect that is enhanced by the folds of the screen. We read the composition like the Japanese language, from right to left, and follow the flow of the seasons from the first red plum blossoms of the year, all the way across to the snow-covered mountains on the far left. A mountain temple on the right and a village on the left enclose an inlet upon which boats come and go. People bustle about in activity, geologically impossible rock formations twist and turn, and water splashes out from the bottom of a waterfall like reaching fingers.

For adherents of Zen Buddhism, a sect with origins in China, idealized landscapes described a world akin to paradise, in which intellectual and religious activities could be pursued unhindered and the cycle of the seasons spoke of the harmony and rebirth inherent in the natural world.

This work is on display for the entire exhibition period.