Pair of Doors (Sugito)
, 17th century
Ink and colors on cryptomeria; mounted as sliding doors
Left Door [1966-211-12a,b]: 63 1/2 x 31 inches (161.3 x 78.7 cm)
Right Door [1966-211-11a,b]: 63 3/4 x 31 inches (161.9 x 78.7 cm)
Purchased with the Fiske Kimball Fund and the Marie Kimball Fund, 1966
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About These Doors
These two sliding doors (sugi-to
), which together present one
image, are made of wood from the cryptomeria tree, a Japanese
cedar. They come from a set of twenty doors that may have been
designed for a palace residence. In traditional Japanese interiors, characterized by the interplay of art and architecture, columns supported the weight of the roof, leaving the wood or paper (fusuma
) walls to be moveable.
On the right-hand door, a Japanese courtier (person in attendance
at a royal court) rides a gray horse through powdery falling snow
past an ancient pine tree, which arches over the horse and courtier
like a canopy. Dressed in a brightly colored robe and black hat, the
courtier raises his long sleeve to shield himself from the snow. His
dappled gray horse, fitted with a black saddle and red trappings,
paws at the ground. The snowy ground continues onto the surface
of the other door, which is more sparsely decorated with a small
clump of snow-covered bamboo.
In contrast to the detailed painted figures and trees, the wood in
the background is left unpainted, allowing its rich, natural beauty
to show through. In places, the wood grain itself reads as falling
snow. Diamond-shaped gilded door handles feature the three
hollyhock leaves (aoi
) used in the crest of the Tokugawa
(toh-ku-gah-wah) family, who were shoguns (military rulers) during the
Edo period (1615–1868). Perhaps these colorful doors were part of a decorative
interior wall in one of their residences.
In traditionally built Japanese interiors, columns support the weight of the building, allowing the walls to be lightweight and movable. Walls are often made of a series of sliding doors, which can be opened, closed, or removed, depending on the activities going on in the room. For example, by taking out the sliding doors, one can transform small rooms for sleeping into a large banquet room.
Doors can also be decorated, providing artistic delight to the room.
Like the Courtier on Horseback
, the doors are usually painted with a
naturalistic scene—a landscape, folktale, or famous epic tale. Most
interior sliding doors are made of paper-covered, wooden lattice
frames. The Museum's sliding doors are unusual, because the paintings
are applied directly to the wooden surfaces. Simply painted
sliding doors complement the rest of the house's interior, where
scant furniture or other ornamentation would be present.
Regard for the natural environment is consistently reflected in
Japanese nonreligious architecture. Architects try to humbly
respond to the elements of nature—weather, geography, and
natural resources—and create a harmonious relationship between
the building and the outside environment. The painted designs
on these sliding doors reinforce these natural qualities.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Japan
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.