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Tigers and leopard

Two tigers and a leopard in a landscape of rocks and bamboo look out with force in this pair of six-panel screens.
Tigers and Leopard detail
Tigers and Leopard (detail), Momoyama period (1573 –1615) or early Edo period (1615 –1868). Japan. One of a pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Larry Ellison Collection, 2013.2.21.
These screens from the Larry Ellison Collection were not selected to be displayed as part of In the Moment, but we chose to share them exclusively on our website. 

Representations of ferocious animals were popular among Japan’s warrior elite, who sought to project strength and power through the art decorating their homes. The shimmering gold-leaf background also proclaimed the owner’s wealth. 

Tigers and Leopard
Tigers and Leopard, Momoyama period (1573 –1615) or early Edo period (1615 –1868). Japan. Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Larry Ellison Collection.

The unusual rendering of the animals’ forms might seem exaggerated or cartoonish to viewers familiar with the actual animals, but live tigers and leopards did not exist in Japan; their appearance was known only through Chinese and Korean paintings, or from animal skins brought to Japan from other parts of Asia. One theory holds that at the time these screens were painted the leopard was understood in Japan to be a female tiger. If true, the combination of tigers and leopards may have symbolized fidelity and fertility, a subject suitable for display in family quarters of a mansion or castle.

Tigers and leopard
Tigers and leopard, Momoyama period (1573 –1615) or early Edo period (1615 –1868). Japan. One of a pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Larry Ellison Collection.