The thirty-six poetic geniuses (sanjurokkasen) are a group of outstanding Japanese poets from the time of the poetry anthology Man'yoshu (759) to the end of the 10th century. The grouping is based on an anthology compiled in the 11th century by the influential poet and critic Fujiwara no Kinto and it led to the making and remaking of personal poetry collections for all 36 poets, thus helping to preserve their work.
The poets were a favored topic of artists, and paintings of the 36 as a group date from as early as the 13th century and were inspired by a new interest in realistic portraiture. These early portraits generally took the form of horizontal handscrolls in which each seated poet was paired with one of his or her poems to represent an ideal integration of painting, poetry and calligraphy. Subsequent generations illustrated them not only in scrolls but in albums, as here, and on screens. Shown here are Taira no Kanemori with his poem (above), Minamoto no Kintada, and one of the handful of women poets, Nakatsukasa. A professional connoisseur of calligraphy has attributed all thirty-six poems in this album to Emman-in dono Joson. The paintings are attributed to the late period of Matabei's career, during his stay in Edo, on the basis of facial types and brushwork.
The album is a new discovery. It has been requested for Tsuji Nobuo's exhibition Densetsu no ukiyoe kaiso Iwasa Matabei -- hito wa "Ukiyo Matabei" to yonda (Legendary pioneer of ukiyo-e Iwasa Matabei -- called "Ukiyo Matabei") at the Chiba City Museum of Art from October 9 to November 23, 2004.