Black robe, white mistArt of the Japanese Buddhist nun Rengetsu
8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008
The life of Lotus Moon
Morimoto Kiyoko 'Portrait of Rengetsu' hanging scroll [kakemono] 20th century woodblock print John Stevens collection more detail
Otagaki Rengetsu, Lotus Moon, was a Buddhist nun, poet, calligrapher, potter and painter. A renowned beauty, she led a life of adversity, self-reliance and undesired notoriety. She was born in 1791, probably to a courtesan – perhaps a geisha – and a samurai, and was later adopted by a lay priest of Chion’in, a Pure Land Buddhist temple in Kyoto.
As a child she studied waka poetry, calligraphy, dance, needlework and martial arts at Kameoka castle. On her return to Kyoto Rengetsu married. She was 17 when her first child, a son, died after only twenty days; two daughters followed but also died young. Taking the unusual step of divorcing her husband, she remarried happily only to be widowed at 33. Rengetsu then became a nun, taking the children from her second marriage to live at Chion’in. Tragically, within a decade her children and beloved adoptive father had died, and Rengetsu was forced to leave the temple and support herself.
She began creating simply-made ceramics adorned with her poetry. Rengetsu’s ceramics soon attracted a popular following and widespread imitation. She also painted poem sheets and scrolls, often collaborating with renowned artists. In 1865 Rengetsu settled at Jinkoin, Temple of Divine Light. Ten years later, aged 84, she died in the simple temple tearoom where she had lived and worked. Today, Rengetsu is still celebrated as one of Kyoto’s famous citizens in the annual Jidai Matsuri or Festival of the Ages parade.
Otagaki Rengetsu 'My thoughts' tea bowl [chawan] c.1870 glazed stoneware, incised calligraphy Hamilton Art Gallery. Gift of Geoff Handbury. Photograph Ian Brilley more detail
Melanie Eastburn discusses Rengetsu’s personal and creative life in the opening chapter of the National Gallery of Australia’s publication Black robe, white mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist nun Rengetsu, written to accompany this exhibition.
Click thumbnails below to see Rengetsu is still celebrated as one of Kyoto’s famous citizens in the annual Jidai Matsuri (left), where Rengetsu lived at Makuzuan hermitage at Chion'in, Kyoto (middle) and Rengetsu's memorial stone at Saihoji, near Jinkoin (right)
Black Robe, white mist was on show at the National Gallery of Australia 8 September 2007 – 27 January 2008