Honami Koetsu

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Work of calligraphy by Kôetsu of a poem by Kamo no Chômei, with silver and gold underpainting attr. Tawaraya Sôtatsu. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hon'ami Kôetsu was an artist, known chiefly for his calligraphy, pottery, and lacquerware. He was also an accomplished potter and tea ceremony practitioner. Along with Tawaraya Sôtatsu, with whom he worked closely, he is considered one of the forerunners of the Rinpa style, which was founded by Ogata Kôrin roughly a century later explicitly imitating and reviving the style of Kôetsu and Sôtatsu.

He was known as one of the "Three Brushes of the Kan'ei era," i.e. one of the three most celebrated calligraphers, alongside Shôkadô Shôjô and Konoe Nobutada.

Kôetsu was born into a long lineage of expert sword connoisseurs; the experts of the Hon'ami family gradually expanded into connoisseurs of calligraphy and other arts as well. Kôetsu's great-grandfather Hon'ami Kiyonobu served Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori as an official sword appraiser and expert for the shogunate. Kôetsu's father Hon'ami Kôji, along with Kôetsu himself, played a significant role in funding the 1587 relocation and reconstruction of Honpô-ji temple. Kôetsu designed a garden for the temple, and it became the Hon'ami family temple, maintaining strong connections to the family for decades or centuries to come.

Along with Sôtatsu, Kôetsu had a strong interest in Noh, and in the aesthetics, themes, motifs, and techniques of Heian period court arts. Much of his work made reference to, or otherwise related to, poetry and calligraphy in the Heian period style, Heian period modes of employing decorative papers, the Tale of Genji or other Heian narratives, or the Noh theatre, which itself very frequently refers back to Heian period stories or characters.

Kôetsu was granted a plot of land in Takagamine in 1615 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. There, in the hills to the northwest of Kyoto proper, Kôetsu and Sôtatsu established an artists' colony that included Kôetsu's extended family, and roughly fifty other households. The members of the community included papermaker Kamishi Sôji; lacquer specialist Tsuchida Sôtaku; Kôetsu's nephew, textile merchant Ogata Sôhaku; brushmaker Fudeya Myôki; and members of the Suminokura and Gotô families. Most, if not all, of the members of the community were commoners (chônin - townspeople), but were rather prominent and influential townsmen; whether for Kôetsu or Sôtatsu specifically, or for the community more generally, Takagamine saw not infrequent visits from noblemen, and on at least one occasion, in 1638 (the year after Kôetsu's death), from the Empress Tôfukumon'in.

Kôetsu died in 1637, and was buried at Takagamine. The grave is now located within the grounds of the temple Kôetsu-ji, named after him.


  • Lillehoj, Elizabeth. Art and Palace Politics in Early Modern Japan 1580s-1680s. Brill Publishing, 2011. pp176-184.