Like the bald eagle that is America’ s national emblem, the Japanese mountain hawk-eagle (kumataka) is a large, fierce looking bird connected with majesty and power. This formidable hunter uses the element of surprise to attack its prey from perches high in the forest. Japanese warriors admired the hawk’ s qualities and complemented activities like falconry and bird-collecting by commissioning paintings of both hawks and tethered falcons for display in their castles.
The artist Soga Nichokuan specialized in painting hawks, as did his father Chokuan. His goal, as seen in this work, was to capture the bird’s alert posture. Standing with one leg curled under the body, eyes intently focused, the hawk stands ready to spring from its vantage place in an oak tree. Notice the care Nichokuan took to distinguish the different shapes and textures of the bird’ s soft plumage, sharp beak and talons, glassy eye, and elastic skin—all using graded washes of ink and supple brush lines.