Soami and Japanese art: Middle Kingdom of China

Soami and Japanese art: Middle Kingdom of China

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Middle Kingdom (China) blessed the artistic world of Japan for many centuries. Indeed, Japan borrowed and modified many aspects of Chinese culture – while powerful Japanese historical and religious figures blessed the Middle Kingdom with fresh ideas during their travels to China.

Sōami was born in the fifteenth century and died in 1525. He focused extensively on the Southern School of Chinese art. Artistically, the world of Southern Song and the Yuan dynasty opened up a new world for Sōami. However, true to the spirit of Sōami, he was blessed with a very independent mindset.

The Cleveland Museum of Art says, “Kyoto-based painter Sōami adapted the small-format Chinese album leaf and handscroll painting compositions belonging to the Ashikaga shogunate to the large-scale paintings he created for residences and Buddhist temples. As curator of the shogunal collection, Sōami would have carefully examined its Southern Song and Yuan dynasty Chinese paintings, gaining specialized knowledge of a variety of brush modes, including the soft style used for this painting.”

One can imagine Sōami visiting Buddhist temples in Koyasan, Kyoto, Negoro-ji, Nara, and other places, that continue to attract the faithful today in modern Japan. High culture, the Middle Kingdom, Shintoism, poetry, classical Chinese and Japanese literature, and other areas of culture were part and parcel of Sōami’s world.

The National Gallery of Victoria says, “Japan is renowned for its long lineage of warrior rulers, the Tokugawa and their predecessors, the Ashikaga. The art collections of these shoguns were extensive and of such value that they were documented and placed in the care of cultural specialists (dōbōshū). These companions to the great lords were also responsible for the ritualized use and presentation of precious objects. One of these medieval curators was Sōami (c.1455–1525), a renowned painter, landscape architect and an official keeper of Chinese works of art (karamono).”

Sōami’s landscapes are a real treasure. Hence, even today, Sōami continues to attract art lovers all over Japan and further afield.

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