The forty-two fans scattered across this work were painted on paper sheets and then pasted on the screen. Thirty of them are completely unfolded, four of them partially so, and eight are closed. The “ribs” are painted-on affectations, and these fans were never intended for actual use. The random placement—called “fans afloat” or “scattered fans”—differs from the style in which fans are arranged in a regularized pattern. Although it was common in Japan to place used fans on older screens at a later date, Sōtatsu’s studio was known for pasting or painting fans on newly created screens from the outset.
The subjects of the fan paintings are essentially selected “quotations” from earlier, probably one-of-a-kind, paintings. This indicates that Sōtatsu had considerable access to rare examples in the collections of aristocrats and temples and the editorial power to disseminate such images. Three fans depict The Tale of Heiji and thirteen others The Tale of Hōgen, both military epics. Two illustrate Miraculous Origins of the Kitano Tenjin Shrine. Two more are drawn from the literary classic Tales of Ise. Seven fans depicts plant-and-flower subjects, two have bird-and-flower themes, and one depicts tortoises. All of the partially unfolded fans except one have nature themes; the other appears to depict a literary tale. Studio artists adapted motifs from literary scrolls to accommodate the folding-fan format. Aside from Miraculous Origins of the Kitano Tenjin Shrine, however, none of the scrolls has survived, and they can be reconstructed only from late Edo period copies.
Screen with Scattered Fans
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, early 17th century
Six-panel folding screen
Color, gold, and silver over gold on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1900.24