Relationship between Zen and Sumi-e (1)



Japanese Sumi-e has been under the influence of Zen.
I would like to write down the historical background and similarities between Sumi-e and Zen in two parts.

1. About Sumi-e

The pictures drawn by Sumi (black ink) are generally called ‘Suiboku-ga’ or ‘Sumi-e’ in Japan. It is said that ‘Sumi-e is the most popular way of saying overseas. Sumi-e basically uses only black ink but sometimes uses a little bit of other pigments as well. Sumi-e with other pigments is called Bokusaiga in particular.
Sumie uses various techniques of gradation, shading, bleeding, blurring. Such techniques can be obtained through changing the amount of water added to the ink.


2. The history of Sumi-e

Ink painting, which was developed as landscape paintings that is called Sansuiga in China in the last half of the Tang dynasty, has developed on a ‘Shikunsi (Four Gentlemen)’ basis in Song dynasty. After then it was brought with Zen together from China and became well-known as well as Zen in the Kamakura period (from 1185 to 1333).
By the way, Zen doesn’t possess writing. The reason is why writing changes in any way, depending on the interpretations and there is not existing true of the Buddhism in it, and so Zen dare not have writing. Instead of it, when Shishi-sosho (transmission of the teachings and the way of Buddhism from a teacher to a disciple) was held, a master gave a disciple Chinzo (Portrait of a Zen monk) and so Sumi-e has been developed by priest painters of Buddhist images and Zen priests so much. But Sumi-e was not the pictures specialized for Zen. The subjects of Sumi-e included flowers and birds as well. (Sansuiga appeared in the Muromachi period.)
In the Muromachi period (from 1333 to 1568), the Ashikaga Shogun family patronized Zen and as a result, Zen culture bloomed. Sumi-e has also enjoyed the height of prosperity in the Muromachi period, and Syokoku-ji Temple of Zen sect, built by Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third shogun of the Muromachi bakufu, produced many famous Zen priests & painters of Sumi-e, like Josetsu, Shubun, Sesshu.

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