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Tang Poetry in Seal Script

Morimoto Itsuzan, Tang Poetry in Seal Script, 1765, pair of 6-panel screens; ink on paper, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, public domain, 2011.130.2a,b


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Tang Poetry in Seal Script


Morimoto Itsuzan (Japanese, 1702-1778)




pair of 6-panel screens; ink on paper

Dimensions (H x W x D)

A and B overall: 64 in x 24 3/4 in; image: 51 3/4 in x 22 in

Inscriptions & Markings

signature: 六十四翁常足道人, brushed, panel 6 of each screen

Collection Area

Asian Art



Object Type

folding screen



Credit Line

Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles

Accession Number



public domain









Morimoto Itsuzan was part of a circle of Sinophile intellectuals in eighteenth-century Kyoto. He became a master of seal script, an archaic form of writing that originally flourished in China in the first millennium BCE. In this pair of screens, brushed when the artist was 64 years old, he quotes two poems written on command to themes established by the emperor during the Tang dynasty (618–907). The poem transcriptions and translations are by Jonathan Chaves.

A. 奉和聖製早渡蒲津關 Written on Command in Response to the Imperially Composed Poem, “Crossing Pujin Pass Early in the Day,” by Zhang Jiuling

Zhang Jiuling 張九齡 (678–740) was the most important writer and statesman at the Tang court in the 730s, a halcyon period in Emperor Xuanzong’s reign (712–756). The emperor had visited Pujin Pass, a place of historical and strategic importance near the capital city of Chang’an (modern Xian). He wrote a poem on the subject himself and then commanded his courtiers to compose verses on the same theme.

Panels 1–2 (from right to left): 高 長 軒 魏 掌 堤 黃 武 曙 春 問 中 雲 樹 道 流 開 發 迴 處

The place where Emperor Wei-wu stood firm against the flood, The place where the Yellow Emperor turned back, after learning of the Tao! Long embankment, spring trees bursting into bloom, Place split wide open, sun rising through the clouds!

Panels 3–4 天 河 人 龍 杖 津 占 負 役 會 仙 王 風 日 氣 舟 雷 月 來 渡

Dragons here have carried the imperial barge across; Men have come to prognosticate the aura of immortality. River fords join with sun and moon, Heavenly regalia are marshalled before the wind and thunder.

Panels 5–6 元 還 西 東 首 聞 馳 顧 詠 股 萬 重 康 肱 國 關 哉 郡 陪 盡

Gazing east, the layered passes end; Galloping west, 10,000 lands pay tribute! Yes, we have heard tell of this Region of Vital Limbs: Our ruler now sings of prosperity!

B. 奉和聖製暮春送朝集使歸郡應制 Written on Command in Response to the Imperially Composed Poem, “In Late Spring, Seeing Off the Court Officials as they Return to their Districts,” by Wang Wei

Wang Wei 王維 (701-761) is known to history as one of the greatest poets and painters in Chinese history. He first won fame at the royal court through his poetry and skill at music. He rose rapidly through the ranks of government service, in part thanks to sponsorship by Zhang Jiuling—the author of the other poem in these screens.

The poem quoted here, written in the early 730s, likens Emperor Xuanzong to revered ancient rulers of the Zhou and Han dynasties.

Panels 1–2 (from right to left): 金 玉 衣 萬 節 乘 冠 國 送 迎 拜 仰 諸 大 冕 宗 侯 客 旒 周

All lands gaze up in reverence to Zhou! Robes and caps bow down, cap-gems dangling free. The Jade Conveyance welcomes distinguished guests; With golden emblems the feudal lords are seen off.

Panels 3–4: 槐 楊 搴 祖 色 花 帷 席 蔭 飛 向 傾 通 上 九 三 溝 路 州 省

Ancestral holders of seats in the Threefold Secretariat Pour out through raised curtains, leave for the Nine Regions. Willow catkins flutter more

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