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Legends of Kitano Tenjin, 1200-1300

Legends of Kitano Tenjin

Legends of Kitano Tenjin (Kitano Tenjin engi), 1200- 1300. Japan. Hanging scroll; ink and colors on paper. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D36+.

his painting was originally part of a narrative handscroll (emaki) that told the story of Sugawara Michizane (845–903) and the founding of the Tenjin shrine. In the Shinto religion, after their death some persons of superior talent came to be regarded and were worshiped as spirits (kami) or supernatural beings. Michizane, an eminent scholar, poet, and calligrapher, is a prominent example of such a being. He was deified and given the title “holy god” (tenjin), and a shrine dedicated to him was founded in Kyoto’s Kitano district. Thus he came to be known as Kitano Tenjin. Even today, Michizane is widely worshiped as the patron saint of scholarship. This scene depicts the disciple Ki Haseo sorrowfully reading one of the deceased Michizane’s poems, with other men bowing their heads in sorrow as they listen.