Muromachi Period Garden Design


Picture scroll, on paper, discussing & illustrating garden designs of the Muromachi period (1335-1573) in Japan. Ten large brush & ink drawings of gardens, with much manuscript text & accompanying illustrations of varieties of rocks. Scroll (365 x 6270 mm.), outer blue endpaper at beginning (paper a little wrinkled), wooden core roller. [Japan]: copies of texts written in 1395, 1475, 1509, & 1523; compiled mid-Edo.

A handsomely illustrated picture scroll discussing and depicting Japanese garden design considerations, derived from four texts composed in 1395-1523 during the troubled Muromachi period. These texts were all based on the Sakuteiki 作庭記 [Notes on Garden Making], which originally appeared in the late 11th century and was the first work on garden design in Japan and possibly in the world. Another work which influenced this scroll is the Sagaryū niwa kohō hidden no sho 嵯峨流庭古法秘伝の書[The Secret Book of Saga-Style Gardening], composed in the 14th century. Garden designs, largely composed for individual aristocratic owners, were considered secret information. Indeed, at the end of our scroll, the anonymous scribe has written that this is private information and should not be passed on to others.

At the very end, we find the scribe’s note (in trans.): “A garden is a sacred thing, maintain it and respect it, therefore carefully make plans for its construction. If the garden is well-made, it will protect you.” The scribe adds details on the four original sources for this scroll: “22 August 1395, copied by Nakanoin Chunagon Yasuhira / 7 March 1475, copied by Shijo Gennochujo Tametomo Sani / 3 August 1509, copied at Washu Ichiyo terakitabo Jinguji / middle of July 1523, copied at Jinbaji [?] by Kubaku.”

The uncertainty of the times reinforced the appeal of the contemplative Zen philosophy, and a number of important gardens were created as refuges from the disruptions and violence. This important theme runs throughout the scroll.

Our scroll contains ten large drawings of garden designs, focusing mostly on the types of appropriate rocks and their proper placement. The art of selecting stones and arranging them was considered the most important part of garden design. The scroll begins with an extended synopsis of garden styles: dry, wet, “ocean style,” “mountain stream style,” “broad river style,” “reed hand style,” and “pond pool style.”

The first image, in black & white, depicts the preliminary plans for a garden, accompanied by three lines of explanatory text. The site has been selected and shown here in a jidori format (a master site plan divided into sections), with the following elements: mountains, canyons, mountain passes, waterfalls, islands, river, shoreline, and essential rocks.

The following nine images are all drawn in fine colors and have explanatory text. The first image in this sequence depicts about 30 types of rocks, each labelled with descriptive names, often extended. This image is concerned with the proper placement of both rocks and trees. The remaining images show the many variations of gardens, rock placements, etc. Some of the gardens have water, others not, and some employ “borrowed scenery” (shakkei). The author outlines the differences between gardens designed for samurai, aristocrats, and nobility. There are references to Buddhist cosmology and Chinese theories on the divination of sites.

The end of the scroll has an extended discussion of the “Five Elements”: wood (East), fire (South), metal (West), water (North), and earth (in the center). The author also makes recommendations about how to view a garden from various perspectives.

Fine condition.

Price: $5,500.00

Item ID: 9670