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In the seventeenth century, in response to the ideas of self-expression traveling from China, the Japanese created their own, highly sophisticated version of the Chinese literati culture. This exhibition explores the works of art that flourished as a result, both collaborative works and unique objects created by individual artists.
One important avenue for the importation of works from the continent were the Chinese Zen priests, particularly those belonging to the Ōbaku temple Mampuku-ji. A rare handscroll of calligraphies by fifteen early leaders of the sect, established in 1661 near Kyoto, Japan, is on view in this exhibition. Collaborative works became a hallmark of Japanese literati culture, whether in the form of handscrolls, albums, or sets of fans. Images of poetic gatherings became popular as well, reflecting both Chinese culture and Japanese poetry.
The literati culture also acknowledged and encouraged individuality, and even eccentricity, in artists. The free and open atmosphere of eighteenth-century Japan set the stage for a period of creative experimentation and the flourishing of literature and art by a remarkable group of talented men and women. Two of them, Ike Taiga (1723–1776) and Tokuyama Gyokuran (1727–1784) are the subjects of a separate special exhibition, Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran: Japanese Masters of the Brush