K059 Zen Skull by Takeda Mokurai 竹田黙雷

Here lies a former beauty dreaming of the spring boudoir!

Year of theWood Hare [=1915] midsummer
Brushed by Sahentei * of Higashiyama.

東山左邊題書
大正乙卯夏日
猶是春閨夢裡人

     

Takeda Mokurai (竹田黙雷, 1853-1930)
K059 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 130.3 cm × 39.4 cm.

* One of Mokurai’s pen names.

On a Buddhist level a skull reinforces the notion of impermanence and the vanity of worldly existence. The Zen view is more positive: Death is a natural part of life so just let things be and do not cling to either state of being. A skull also represents the ultimate equality of human beings and the rightness of the inevitable dissolution of individuality. The inscription on this painting is both a warning—”Even the greatest beauty must fade from this world”—and an exultation—”Wasn’t life fun while it lasted!” This type of skull painting was often hung during the hottest part of summer in the belief that the chill it sent down the viewer’s spine would cool him or her off.