Zhou Maoshu Admiring Lotus

Organization control number
Cultural property designation
National Treasure
Number of members
Hanging scroll
By Kanō Masanobu
Era century
Muromachi period, 15th century
Item shape
Ink and light color on paper
84.5 × 33.0 cm
Kyushu National Museum
This is a masterpiece of Japanese ink painting under the Higashiyama culture of the Muromachi period (1392–1573). The painter is Kanō Masanobu (1434–1530) who founded the Kanō school. The Kanō school of painting was the most dominant of all the Japanese painting styles. Among the works of Kanō Masanobu, only this one has been designated a National Treasure. The painting depicts a man on a boat drifting among lotuses on the calm and clear water while along the shore willow branches sway in the breeze. The man on the boat is Zhou Maoshu (1017–73), a Confucian scholar in the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) who is believed to have deeply loved lotus blossoms. In his book, Ailianshuo, he compared a lotus which rises above the mud and blossoms beautifully to a man of virtue. The depiction of Zhou Maoshu admiring lotus was very popular in China, together with three other similar subject matters: Tao Yuanming admiring chrysanthemums, Lin Hejing admiring plum blossoms, and Huang Shangu admiring orchid flowers. At the same time, Japanese intellectuals such as Zen priests deeply appreciated Chinese literary works and culture. This painting is cherished by them as a work that illustrated a Chinese event. Based on the style of the brushwork and the seal impressed, it is clear that the work was drawn by Kanō Masanobu. He was a leading artist in the Muromachi period who served and enjoyed the patronage of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–90), the eighth Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate government. As the overall painting composition and style of the willow branches of this work closely resemble to those of a Chinese painting, it is highly probable that this painting was produced after Kanō Masanobu would have studied the Southern Song dynasty paintings in the Shogun’s collection. There are many paintings that imitated the styles of specific Chinese artists as the model during the Muromachi period. This work followed the style of Ma Yuan (active in the 12th–13th century), a court artist in the Southern Song dynasty. The painting has high historic value as it shows the artistic trend of imitating Chinese styles.