Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This cycle is a spectacular example of the convergence of the classical and contemporary in Edo painting. Together, the hanging scrolls create a paradisal garden in which all the seasons flower simultaneously. The theme dates back to the 12th century, when a series of paired birds and flowers were assigned to poetically symbolize each month. These prescribed associations remained prominently embedded in the cultural memory for more than six hundred years. Here, however, Hōitsu has cultivated an alternate set of symbolically charged motifs, creating a vibrant visual idiom for the new era. New motifs include recently imported plants, such as the canna lily from South America, and novel poetic subjects incubated within contemporary short-form haikai (commonly known as haiku) verse. While the paintings are ostensibly secular, research points to their use in Buddhist rituals conducted at the Sakai family mortuary temple in Maebashi, situated about 75 miles northwest of Tokyo.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Sakai Hōitsu 酒井抱一, Japanese (Edo 1761 - 1828)
Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months
Work Type
hanging scroll, painting
c. 1820–28
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Edo period, 1615-1868
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Set of twelve hanging scrolls; ink, color, and gold on silk
image only: 132.7 x 44.6 cm (52 1/4 x 17 9/16 in.)
with mount: 219 x 58.8 cm (86 1/4 x 23 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • signature: first to eleventh months: 抱一筆 [Painted by Hōitsu]
  • signature: twelfth month
    : 抱一暉真筆 [Painted by Hōitsu Kishin]
  • seal: first month; upper; round, relief: 文詮 [Monsen]
  • seal: first month; lower; square, relief: 抱弌 [Hōitsu]
  • seal: second to eleventh months; round, relief: 文詮 [Monsen]
  • seal: twelfth month; upper; fan-shaped, relief: 雨華庵 [Uge-an]
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Matthew McKelway, Kobayashi Tadashi, and Yasumura Toshinobu, Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), exh. cat., Japan Society (New York, 2012), pp. 148-153, cat. 46

The Flowering of Edo Period Painting: Japanese Masterworks from the Feinberg Collection, exh. cat., Yomiuri Shinbunsha (Tokyo, 2013), pp. 44-49, cat. 9

Musée Cernuschi, Le Japon au fil des saisons: Collection Robert et Betsy Feinberg, exh. cat., Paris-Musées (Paris, 2014), pp. 60-67

Emma Giuliani, Quatre saisons au Japon: Un livre anime, Musée Cernuschi (Paris, 2014)

Rachel Saunders, "Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection", Orientations, Orientations Magazine (Hong Kong, January/February 2020), vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 20-33, p. 31, figs. 11a and b

Rachel Saunders and Yukio Lippit, Painting Edo: Selections from the Feinberg Collection of Japanese Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, 2020), pp. 102-103, fig. 1; p. 133-136, figs. 27-30; p. 138, fig. 34; pp. 141-142, figs. 36-37

Exhibition History

Silver Wind: the Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), Japan Society, New York, 09/29/2012 - 01/06/2013

The Flowering of Edo Period Painting: Japanese Masterworks from the Feinberg Collection, Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, 05/21/2013 - 07/15/2013; Miho Museum, 07/20/2013 - 08/18/2013; Tottori Prefectural Museum, 10/05/2013 - 11/10/2013

Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/14/2020 - 06/06/2021

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

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