Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Writing Box
Attributed to Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese, 1558-1637)
Early seventeenth century
Lacquer on wood with lead and mother-of-pearl inlay
Diameter 11 9/16"
Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558-1637), the celebrated early 17th-century Japanese artist whom the art-historian Elise Grilli likened to Leonardo da Vinci--" a versatile genius in whom all the arts and refinements of his day seemed to find their confluence"--has never been the subject of a comprehensive exhibition outside Japan. From July 29 to October 29, 2000, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, American audiences will have the rare opportunity to see outstanding examples of his work in The Arts of Hon'ami Kōetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master, an exhibition of more than 100 objects, ranging from calligraphy and printed books to ceramics and lacquerwork. The exhibition will include works drawn from collections throughout Japan, Europe and the United States, and is being organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Agency for Cultural Affairs, Govenment of Japan; and The Japan Foundation. Dr. Felice Fischer, The Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Acting Curator of East Asian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, initiated the project and has overseen its development.

In modem parlance, Hon'ami Kōetsu could be described as an "art director" par excellence. He collaborated with other outstanding artists of his day to breathe new life into traditional formats such as handscrolls and lacquers. Kōetsu revolutionized the visual effects of classical poetry scrolls, working with the artist Tawaraya Sōtatsu to produce striking designs of cranes, deer and butterflies in gold and silver, over which Kōetsu brushed his distinctively bold calligraphy. The famous Crane Scroll, a particularly sumptuous example of the type of scroll widely comssioned by the mercantile elite of 17th-century Japan, is designated an -Important Cultural Property" by the Japanese government, and will be on loan from the Kyoto National Museum.


In collaboration with a Kyoto-based publisher, Kōetsu introduced high-quality, printed editions of classical literature. Using his calligraphy as a model, movable type was carved in wood, and the printed pages were decorated with woodblock-stamped motifs in silver and gold. Kōetsu's interest in calligraphy led him to design beautiful lacquer boxes to hold the essential tools of East Asian writing: brush and inkstone. One such lacquer box, with the striking and characteristic motif of a single deer on a gold and black background, and featuring Kōetsu's original use of lead inlay and a domed lid, is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 


Kōetsu has the unique distinction of being the only artist with works in two different mediums--1acquerwork and ceramics--designated as "National Treasures" by the Japanese government. He was a multi-talented, irrepressible genius who inspired his contemporaries and exerted profound influence on generations to come

Please note.. Both to protect particularly sensitive works from prolonged exposure to light and to provide visitors with the broadest possible overview of Kōetsu's accomplishements, on September 18 newly installed works will replace objects previously on view in the exhibition.


The Arts of Hon'ami Kōetsu will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue including scholarly essays and object entries by exhibition curator Dr. Felice Fischer and a team of international scholars. In addition to guided tours and gallery talks, the Museum's Division of Education plans a series of programs, including a student's symposium, an lkebana master class, performances of Nō theater, a tea ceremony, multi-media interactive computer stations, as well as Japanese films. Workshops on Japanese papermaking and calligraphy will also be held. For schools in the Philadelphia area, the Museum will offer student tours as well as teachers' workshops related to the exhibition. The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park and area universities win join the Museum in developing collaborative programs.


With a distinguished history of collecting and exhibiting Japanese art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a particularly appropriate venue for this exhibition. Four works by Hon'ami Kōetsu are included in the Museum's permanent collections: the lacquer writing box discussed above, two shikishi poem cards mounted as hanging scrolls, and the recently acquired handscroll devoted to Love Poems from the Shinkokin Wakashu Imperial Anthology (c. 1610).

The Arts of Hon'ami Kōetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan; and The Japan Foundation. It is supported in part by generous grants from The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support was provided by Japan Airlines; William M. Hollis, Jr., and Andrea M. Baldeck, M.D.; Mr. and Mrs. Howard H. Lewis; and The Rosenkranz Foundation, Inc. Initial funding was provided by the Luther W. Brady, Jr., Endowment for Japanese Art Research Support. The multi-media project was created by the lnternatioanl Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, Gifu, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and made possible in part by The Juroku Bank, Ltd., and ltochu lntemationa1.

For additional information, contact the Marketing and Public Relations Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at (215) 684-7860. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100, or visit the Museum s website at