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Japanese Works : Yuishinken kadensho

Japanese Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'>In Japan, the art of flower arrangement is deeply connected to poetry, religious traditions, courtly culture, and even traditional architecture. <i>Yuishinken kadensho</i>, a sixteenth-century illustrated manuscript with ink and colour on paper, is one of the earliest extant examples of a Japanese guide to flower arranging. Its common title is descriptive and may be roughly translated to 'Document transmitting the flowers of Yuishinken'; the text itself does not contain a title. The original manuscript was later mounted on its present decorated scroll. This manuscript shows flowers, branches, and leaves arranged with consideration of the occasion, the size of the vase in relation to the natural materials used, and the arrangements' placement in relation to hanging scrolls.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The scroll is signed by Sōgen of Kuwazu (now part of Osaka) as a faithful copy of the secret transmission of flower arranging knowledge passed from master to disciple: Saibō Yuishinken to Sukejirō [or Sukekurō] to Sōgen himself. These names appear in two postscripts, a 1536 colophon by Yuishinken, copied by Sōgen, and a 1544 colophon by Sōgen himself. Sōgen would have copied the first colophon with the rest of the text in order to show where the knowledge originated, clarifying his artistic heritage and proving his right to practise within it.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript witnesses to an early school of flower arranging later eclipsed by the now-dominant Ikenobō school. Ikenobō is the dominant tradition of ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), and it is now worldwide. It is a 'school' of art in the Japanese sense of being a tradition passed on from master to disciple over centuries, in the same process of transmission recorded in the Yuishinken scroll. The oldest extant document of the transmission of Ikenobō line flower arrangement dates to 1529, though the school has traditionally claimed to have been founded as early as the sixth or seventh century.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The Yuishinken manuscript is valuable both in its own right and as a record of Japanese art culture in the last years preceding the arrival of the Portuguese traders and missionaries in 1543. The language, orthography, and style of illustration in this manuscript provide points of comparison with later manuscripts and early printed books related to flower arrangement, which are represented in the Aston, Satow, and Von Siebold collections at Cambridge.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The illustrations would have been executed with similar brushes and techniques to those used in the calligraphy of the same text. The paper and pigments may have been prepared by specialist artisans, but given the secret nature of the content, it is unlikely that anyone outside the lineage would have been given the task of illustrating the manuscript. Appropriately, the flowers are the highlights of the <i>Yuishinken kadensho</i>'s illustrations. Vases and hanging scrolls appear in outline to orient the viewer, while bright red, perhaps of vermilion or red lead, brings out the flowers. The artist has also added colours to leaves and branches. The text is closely linked to the illustrations. The words serve to explain the elements within the flower arrangements pictured and in some cases to bring out the significance of specific choices with regard to the seasons or to a special occasion.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript is an example of a text of secret transmission, and the first colophon includes an injunction against showing it to outsiders. Texts of this kind were intended to preserve the specialised knowledge of a family or school of artisans while keeping trade secrets out of the hands of rivals. They were typical of the medieval period, and it was only in later centuries that such texts began to be published and circulated as historical documents. Despite its early secrecy, the scroll came to the attention of scholars of ikebana history in the twentieth century, and a transcription and reproduction appeared in print in 1968. See the bibliography below for further references.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Purchased with the support of Art Fund and the Arts Council England / Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><img style="padding:10px;" src="/images/af_logo.jpg" /><img style="padding:10px;" src="/images/va_logo.jpg" /></p>

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