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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Portrait of Sugawara no Michizane (Kitano Tenjin)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Kitano Tenjin
Work Type
painting, hanging scroll
Muromachi period, 16th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Hanging scroll; ink, color and gold on silk
painting proper: H. 74.4 x W. 54.8 cm (29 5/16 x 21 9/16 in.)
mounting, with cord and roller ends: H. 176.5 x W. 76.2 cm (69 1/2 x 30 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for Asian Art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Sugawara Michizane (845-903) was a brilliant Chinese literary scholar and statesman during Japan's Heian period (794-1185) who rose quickly to high courtly rank but was unjustly exiled after an alleged plot against the emperor. Banished to the southern island of Kyushu in 901, Michizane never sought to challenge the will of the ruler who doubted his loyalty, and he died two years later after much suffering. Soon thereafter, a series of natural disasters racked the city of Kyoto and were attributed to the vengeful spirit of the wronged man. In order to appease his ghost, Michizane was posthumously appointed to high political office and eventually deified as Kitano Tenjin--"Heavenly Deity of the Northern Fields"--protector of the capital and patron spirit of poetry and calligraphy. The main center of his cult is the Kitano Tenjin Shrine in Kyoto, with branch shrines throughout the nation. Idealized portraits of Michizane are displayed each year on August 4th, the anniversary of his death, and poetry readings and calligraphy contests are held at his shrines. In this scroll the deity is depicted as a distinguished older gentleman wearing Japanese court robes and flanked by paintings of pine and plum--plants with long-standing Chinese literary associations. Michizane is famous for his devotion to a particular plum tree in his Kyoto garden to which he addressed his most famous poetic lament on the occasion of his exile:

If the east wind blows this way,
Oh blossoms on the plum tree,
Send your fragrance to me!
Always be mindful of the spring,
Even though your master is no longer there!

This faithful plum tree is said to have uprooted itself and flown to Kyushu in order to be with Michizane. In honor of its loyalty, plum trees are planted on the grounds of every Tenjin shrine.

Exhibition History

  • Paragons of Wisdom and Virtue: East Asian Figure Painting, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 02/15/1997 - 09/21/1997
  • Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, and Bamboo: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/06/2002 - 01/05/2003

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at