• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2028

    Japanese & Korean Art

    18 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 203

    Tanomura Chokunyu (1814-1907)

    Allegory of "Black and white rats"

    Price Realised  


    Tanomura Chokunyu (1814-1907)
    Allegory of "Black and white rats"
    Signed Seson nanajunanadai hoson Chikuo koji Den Chikei sha and sealed Chi, Shoko and another seal
    Hanging scroll; ink, color and gold on silk
    50 5/8 x 16¾in. (128.5 x 42.5cm.)
    Box signed and titled by the artist

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    Encountering a hungry tiger in a field, a traveler ran away but was cornered by a steep cliff. He thought of climbing a pine tree, but gave up that avenue of escape because the tiger could also climb it. Finally, he found a wisteria vine, and escaped the tiger by dangling from the vine. Looking down, he screamed when he saw a dragon waiting below. This desperate situation became even worse when a black and a white rat appeared at the base of the vine and began to chew on it. When the traveler tried swinging the vine to repel the rats, honey dripped onto his face from a beehive in the pine tree. Once he had tasted the honey, he forgot all of his worries and could think only of the sweet taste.

    The subject is a famous episode from the Sutra of Allegory (Hiyukyo), numerous allegories about the Buddha. This particular episode explains that all human beings live in precarious circumstances every day. The tiger and dragon represent death, the pine tree is fortune, the vine is human life, the white rat is day, the black rat is night. The rats come by turn to bite our lifeline. But we mortals taste only the evanescent joy of pleasure.


    Nagaoka family