Kraniche und Kiefern | anonym (Stil: Kanō-Schule) | ca. 1870

Cranes and Pines | anonymous (style: Kanō school) | ca. 1870

Unlike scroll paintings, folding screens always had a purely decorative function in the first instance; they served as room dividers or as a background for the presentation of a person or an event. They were always set up in a slightly folded state, which also ensured that they were stable. When designed as paintings, they were either designed in panels or as a complete picture.

This folding screen is clearly intended as a complete picture, which gives it an inner monumentality and justifies its presentation as a fully unfolded mural. The painter paid little attention to the two-part nature, which is clearly evident in the design of the central crane - it is actually located in the very right part of the folding screen, with only a tip of its right wing still extending into the other half of the folding screen. (A similar overlap can be found at the lower edge of the right half of the screen - only a small tuft of pine needles still extends into the right picture from the left.)

Three cranes are depicted in three different stages: top right, a crane is approaching. It fits virtually into a rectangle. The second crane is clearly a triangular composition with its hanging legs, which signal that it is about to land. The crane on the left, with the nest at its feet and its immediate surroundings of pine branches, is most closely inscribed in a circle. These three geometric shapes, rectangle, triangle, circle - even if they are not in the foreground of the design - are a fundamental and sophisticated compositional basis for Japanese art. (The three basic shapes are considered in Zen to be the three components that make up the world.)

That sounds like symbolism, and that is also present at the level of the motifs of cranes and pine trees: The pine tree is one of the most symbolic plants. With its evergreen needles, it embodies longevity and with its gnarled growth, resilience. (In Japan, they were often planted on sea and lake beaches to offer protection from storms from the water.)

In Asia, cranes are a symbol of eternal youth. They nest on the island of the immortals (Hōrai) and are mounts for saints as they travel through the heavens. They are particularly popular in Japan because they are snow-white animals with a red spot on their heads, which reminds the Japanese of their flag. The family relationships of these three cranes are not entirely clear. It is certainly the "mother" who looks after her young on the pine tree. But which of the other two cranes is the "father" - do we see him twice, "in motion", i.e. in a kind of manga style, as we know it from the oldest picture scrolls?

The magic of this screen is due to the painting and certainly also to the gold background. Since the screen is around 150 years old, a lot has changed in these wafer-thin applied gold plates. There are darkened or porous areas, and there are also scars from the screen's use. All of these details, which are not only "beautiful" when viewed up close, give the screen the charm of being "precious and old" when viewed from a distance.

Of course, gold was also the epitome of preciousness in Japan and was initially used primarily in a religious context. But this screen probably comes from a wealthy middle-class home. People loved such golden screens not only for representative reasons, but also because of their ability to absorb light and reflect it back into the room. Japanese houses were usually very dark - especially the back rooms. You had to use the incoming sunlight cleverly to still have light inside the house away from the sliding doors (towards the garden). Smooth gold surfaces were ideal for this with their special ability to emotionally amplify the sparse light that hits them in the reflection and to illuminate the room with a soft, warm light.

Dimensions: 91cm (x2) x 171cm | Material: Paper

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