Ōtagaki Rengetsu is possibly the most famous female poet of 19th Century and also known for her excellent skills in calligraphy and pottery. She was born as illegitimate daughter of a samurai from the Tōdō family. Soon after her birth, she was adopted by Ōtagaki Mitsuhasa who worked at Chion’in, an important Jōdo (Pure Land) school temple in Kyōto. In 1798, having lost her mother and brother, she was sent to serve as a lady-in-waiting at Kameoka castle in Tanba where she was taught classical poetry, calligraphy and martial arts.
With only 33 years, she already went through some fateful years of her life with the loss of two husbands and all of her five children. After that, she decided to shave her hair and take vows, adopting the name Rengetsu (Lotus Moon). She lived together with her stepfather near Chion’in temple. After his death in 1832 Rengetsu began to make her extraordinary pottery, which she usually inscribed with her own waka (31-syllable classical poetry) and sold to support herself. With her unique combination of pottery, calligraphy and poetry, Rengetsu already gained large recognition during her lifetime far beyond the borders of Kyōto.
This large bowl was made for serving sweets for the Japanese tea ceremony. It is a collaboration work of the Kyōto based potter Issō, who shaped the bowl that was afterwards painted and inscribed by Rengetsu with one of her own poems:
Living by the riverbank
where the water is pure,
will be washed away
each and every day.
Signed: 83 years old Rengetsu.
A bowl of similar style is published in:
Black Robe, White Mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu, National Gallery of Australia, 2007, p. 73.
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