くみあげて 世にこそめずれ 山ふきの
Scooped up and put inside this pot:
Something so admired
For its fragrance of
The water from Uji (River).
Uji River near Kyoto was known for its pure, sweet smelling water. When boiled in a teapot together with sweet smelling Uji tea, that perfect combination produced the heavenly fragrance referred to in Rengetsu’s verse. The last character of the poem mizu, (water) is at the bottom of the painting. If we look at the entire calligraphy we can see the flow from the upper-right hand corner down to the lower left-hand corner, emulating the flow of the Uji River from the top of the mountain to the valley down below. This important piece was done in the “launching pad” phase of Rengetsu’s career. This painting is one of the earliest known for Rengetsu, likely dating from her mid to late 50s. The painting itself it is closer to being a Zen painting than Shijo style because it is composed of only black and gray lines, no color, and no shaded background. It is by far the largest teapot Rengetsu brushed in her long career. Although teapots are typically thought as a utensil that can be held in one hand, this giant teapot cries out, “Look at me! I am no trifling ceramic!” Nothing understated here, unlike the majority of Rengetsu paintings in subsequent years. Rengetsu’s distinctive calligraphic brushwork is starting to emerge. The brushwork is not as flexible as it would later become (although much of the stiffness of the brushstrokes here can be attributed to the non-absorbent paper, better suited to painting than calligraphy, causing a drag on the brush.)
This was illustration #70 in the Black Robe, White Mist; Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu exhibition catalogue.