Kabura nezumi zu Turnip and mouse



Kabura nezumi zu
Turnip and mouse
Scroll, ink on paper, mounting on silk
Ike no Taiga (1723-1776)
Edo period, 18th century
H. 21 in (53.5cm) – W. 12 ¾ in (32.5cm)
H. 46 in (117cm) – W. 28.1 in (71.5cm)

Ike no Taiga (池 大雅) was one of the most famous painters of the Bunjin-ga school of Japanese literati painting, which was inspired by Chinese literati painting. It is said that he perfected the Bunjin-ga genre with together Yosa Buson. He was born into a family of farmers in northern Kyoto. Already in his childhood, he excelled in the art of calligraphy, and assiduously frequented the monks of the Zen temple of Manpuku-ji in Kyoto to hone his abilities. He then became a professional painter. In 1748, he left Kyoto and spent some time in Edo (now Tokyo), where he became famous for his virtuosic finger painting. Also during his stay in Edo, he had the opportunity to see Western paintings, which greatly impressed him. In 1751, he met Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), the famous monk and Zen painter. This meeting undoubtedly had an influence on his style. Many of his works have been classified as National Treasures in Japan.

This painting depicts a turnip and a mouse hidden in the shadow of the plant. Mouse is the first zodiac in Chinese astrology, and it is a symbol of prosperity in Japan because people associate the creature’s fertility with increase or success. The mouse had consequently been a motif in Japanese art in many ways and for a long time. It was often depicted with the other things. A turnip is also a symbol of prosperity because the sound of the word for it, “kabu 蕪”, in Japanese, is a homonym for another word, “kabu 株”, which means stock or goodwill. Mouse and turnip were often depicted together in an invocation wishing for prosperity, again due to the mouse’s fertility. Each alone is a symbol of prosperity, and depicted together they become even more auspicious as a symbol of increase and happiness.