Portrait of Shun'oku Myôha, Nanbokuchô period (1336–92), ca. 1383
Hanging scroll: ink, color, and gold on silk; 45 x 20 1/2 in. (114.3 x 52.1 cm )
Inscribed at top by Shun'oku Myôha
Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, 2007 (2007.329)
This formal portrait depicts Shun'oku Myôha (1311–1388), nephew and disciple of the preeminent master Musô Soseki (1275–1351) and a prominent figure in the history of Japanese Zen Buddhism. The severely damaged and faded inscription, composed and inscribed by Shun'oku himself, starts with an enigmatic Zen poem and ends with a statement that the portrait was made for a ritual at the subtemple Muryôjuin. Muryôjuin has recently been identified as a subtemple of Kenninji Temple in Kyoto that was built by Musô Soseki for his master, Kôhô Kennichi (1241–1316).
The portrait of Shun'oku, who is seated in a Chinese-style chair, belongs to a genre of painting called chinsô. In China, chinsô were originally intended for funerals and memorial services, but in Japan the term came to signify paintings and sculptures made to preserve the likenesses of Zen masters. In Japan, chinsô were used not only for ritual commemorative ceremonies but also most likely to certify the transmission of Dharma (Buddhist Law) from masters to their disciples. When Buddhist monks used chinsô to transmit a particular Zen lineage, their purpose was to maintain and increase their political power in the Zen community.