Reflections of Priest Foyen

Reflections of Priest Foyen

15th century

Ikkyū Sōjun 一休 宗純

(Japanese, 1394-1481)

Hanging scroll, ink on paper

Gift from the Collection of George Gund III 2015.511



Left by his mother at a small Zen temple in Kyoto at the age of six, Ikkyu later drew on his early studies and experiences for his writings, which focused on his keen interest in the Chinese classics. Poetry in particular was a favorite subject and images from classical poetry or passages from favorite poems or commentaries frequently provided Ikkyu with the core ideas for his own work. A rare example of his calligraphy, this narrow scroll contains a verse in eight phrases, each comprising four characters. The whole verse is organized in three towering lines of brusque, emphatic calligraphy augmented by Ikkyu's signature-the two lines of running script in the lower left corner. The text refers to a passage included in the Chronicle of the Zen Sect that contains a cautionary reminder attributed to the legendary Chinese monk Foyen Qingyuan (1067-1120), long revered in Japan. The initial phrase begins: "Life is a mirage."

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