akikusa 秋草
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Lit. autumn plants. Often rendered as autumn grasses, a common design motif in decorative arts and painting. Most frequently depicted are the seven plants of autumn, aki-no-nanakusa 秋の七草: bushclover hagi 萩; miscanthus, sometimes rendered as pampas grass, susuki 薄; Chinese bellflower kikyou 桔梗; arrowroot kuzu 葛; maidenflower ominaeshi 女郎花; pinks or wild carnations nadeshiko 撫子; and boneset fujibakama 藤袴. The seven plants are first mentioned together in a poem from the MAN'YOUSHUU 万葉集 (mid-8c) by Yamanoue no Okura 山上憶良 (ca. 660-733). Originally, they were contrasted with the seven grasses of spring, haru-no-nanakusa 春の七草, a grouping that had little popularity as a design motif. Along with the autumn maple momiji 紅葉 and chrysanthemum kiku 菊, the seven grasses are symbols of the fall season, especially associated with desolation and loneliness, and expressions of *aware あわれ or the transitory nature of life. Often the plants were combined with dragonflies, the moon, or deer - all melancholy and increasingly stereotyped autumn motifs. The seven grasses appear as a subject of painting. A hanging scroll by Sakai Houitsu 酒井抱一 (1761-1828) is a superb example. The theme also appears in *ukiyo-e 浮世絵, such as in print of Moon in the Seven Grasses Tsuki-ni-akikusa 月に秋草 by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861). However, the motif of akikusa has been more widely used as a design motif in textiles, especially *nou 能 costumes, lacquer ware *urushi-nuri 漆塗, and ceramics.


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