Haku Rakuten 白楽天
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Ch: Bai Letian (772-846). A Chinese poet of the mid-Tang dynasty, depicted in a tradition of imaginary portrait paintings. Although his real name was Juyi (Jp: Kyoi 居易), Haku Rakuten also took the name Xiangshan Jushi (Jp: Kouzan Koji 香山居士) or the Retired scholar of the Fragrant Mountain. Moderately successful as an official, he had a high post in Changan (Jp: Chouan 長安) but was demoted for his outspoken social criticism. As a poet, Bai Juyi's verse achieved a simplicity of expression that, in part, led to his popularity among his contemporaries and his long-lived fame in Japan. In particular, the self-edited collection of his work, the Baishi Wenji (Jp: HAKUSHI MONJUU 白氏文集), influenced early Heian literature. Best known are his narrative poems Changhenge (Jp: Chougonka 長恨歌) or the Song of Everlasting Sorrow (see *Youkihi 楊貴妃) and Pipaxing (Jp:*Biwakou 琵琶行) or the Song of the Lute. Both ballads were well-known in Japan and provided the subjects for painting. An early Japanese imaginary portrait of Haku Rakuten, with an inscription dated to 1284 by Zen priest Wuxue Zuyuan (Jp: Mugaku Sogen 無学祖元, 1226-86), is probably based on an earlier Chinese portrait. The early landscape screen (Jp:senzui byoubu 山水屏風, late 11c), formerly in Touji 東寺 (now Kyoto National Museum), is thought to depict Bai Juyi living in retirement, and likely is also based on a Chinese prototype. Another painting theme including Bai is the meeting of nine old gentlemen in reclusion *Kyuurou 九老. A later, and purely Japanese treatment of Bai juyi, derives from the *nou 能 drama HAKURAKUTEN in which the Chinese poet comes to Japan only to be defeated in a poetry contest by a fisherman who is really the god of Sumiyoshi myoujn 住吉明神 in disguise. The screen by Ogata Kourin 尾形光琳 (1658-1716) is the best-known example of this theme.


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