Black robe, white mistArt of the Japanese Buddhist nun Rengetsu
8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008
Ceramics and sake
Otagaki Rengetsu 'Fluttering merrily' hanging scroll [kakemono] 1840s-50s calligraphy, painting Private collection, Zurich more detail
Rengetsu’s ceramics are said to have been so popular during her lifetime that almost every household in Kyoto owned at least two or three examples. She started combining her poetry and distinctive calligraphy with tea ceramics when already in her late 40s or early 50s. Formed from pinched balls of inexpensive clay and incised or painted with verse, Rengetsu’s innovative pottery served as a form of meditation for the nun who remained prolific until her death. She also worked with other potters to fulfil the demand for her wares.
The artist made teapots, cups and other equipment associated with sencha, steeped leaf tea, and teabowls for matcha, whipped tea. Rengetsu also produced flasks and cups for sake rice wine. The latter she usually inscribed with lighthearted verse, since sake was consumed in celebration, including at the beginning of tea ceremonies.
Otagaki Rengetsu 'Tossing out a rowing pole' sake flasks [tokkuri] 1871 glazed stoneware, incised calligraphy Private collection, Basel more detail
Enjoy delicious sake
without overdoing it
and it becomes
an elixir that eases
old age and death
(trans. John Stevens)
By the nineteenth century, sake was enjoyed by people from most levels of society, although it also retained an older ritual role. The lively combination of sake and poetry composition has been popular in Japan for centuries.
In Black robe, white mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist nun Rengetsu, Sandra Sheckter’s chapter examines Rengetsu’s ceramics, while Meher McArthur explores her sake wares, as well as sake culture in 19th century Japan.
Black Robe, white mist was on show at the National Gallery of Australia 8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008