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Painting with gold at the PMA

The new Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit includes work from 16 generations of a Japanese artistic dynasty.

"Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons," painted by Kano Motonobu in 1550, is partPhiladelphia Museum of Art

By way of comparison with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibit, curator Felice Fischer pointed to the Brandywine River Museum’s current show focused on Jamie Wyeth, the third generation of the famed painting family. “Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano” showcases the work of 16 generations of an influential Japanese artistic dynasty, much of which has never before been seen outside of its home country.

Spanning four centuries, “Ink and Gold” reveals the story of the Kano painters, who created stunning and delicate works marked by their use of gold leaf.

“This is a show about a remarkable chapter in the history of Japanese painting,” said Museum director Timothy Rub during a tour of the exhibit. “It’s about family — an extended lineage that extends more than 400 years. It’s about a school of painting that became extraordinarily important to the development of Japanese painting during a remarkable period in the history of that country. It’s a story about patronage, about shogun rulers and the painters who served their political and social goals; and it’s in essence about the genius of Japanese art.”

Beginning in the 15th century, the Kano School thrived via the patronage of the country’s military and political elite. Many of the pieces in “Ink and Gold,” the majority of which are finely detailed and ethereal scenes crafted for sliding doors and folding screens, were commissioned by the shogunate to display their power.

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But as Fischer pointed out during a tour, these images aren’t the typical scenes one might expect from military leaders. “The military in Japan didn’t go for self-portraits on horseback to show their military might,” she explained. “They wanted to show their cultural might, so they commissioned scenes depicting their sophistication in government.”

What you'll see

Favorite themes recur century after century in the work of the Kano School, including figures from Chinese mythology, natural landscapes and Confucian subjects. Walking through the galleries, visitors can see how these themes are reinterpreted by subsequent generations, which Fischer compared to the continual evolution in classical music.

“Everyone who learns the piano plays the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, but each generation makes them its own by first learning the basics and then bringing their own variations to the themes.”

“Ink and Gold” is essentially three exhibits in one. Due to the artworks’ age and delicacy, new selections will be rotated in twice during the show’s three-month run, offering new discoveries for repeat visitors.

'Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano'

Through May 10

Philadelphia Museum of Art

26th Street & Ben Franklin Pkwy.

215-763-8100

www.philamuseum.org

 
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