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    An Analysis of the Illustration of the Magnitude of Nature in Sesshu Toyos Landscape of Winter

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    In Landscape of Winter (1470-90), Sesshu Toyo uses line, shape, perspective, movement, and proportion to illustrate the magnitude of nature and the simplistic beauty of winter. The landscape features a snow covered mountainous region with a few barren trees and a strip of vegetation the only plants and a human figure away from a grouping of buildings the only other life present. The upper mountainous portion of the picture plane is minimal and spacious while the lower grounded portion is dense and detailed. The shape of the mountains act as guide, highlighting certain elements as they descend; the grouping of trees in the middle left, the buildings in the middle right, the person on the stairs in the lower center, and the two trees in the lower right. Toyo uses a unique blend of elements to create his mountainous winter landscape.

    Toyo’s decision to use monochromatic black ink on a vertical scroll to depict the mountains emphasizes their vastness. Deviation from the typical horizontal landscape allowed the upper third of the picture plane to be dedicated to mostly white space, contrasting the heavily detailed bottom third thus creating an asymmetrical balance. This stark contrast of the top and bottom dramatizes the atmospheric perspective created by the gradient of increasing detail of each shape as the view works their way through the piece. Toyo’s decision to keep the piece monochromatic also forces the viewer to focus on size, scale, and shape, further emphasizing the contrast from top to bottom. While there is a realistic treatment of scale and proportion throughout that keeps the piece believable to the viewer, Toyo accomplishes a dramatized vastness of the mountains by strategically utilizing white space, atmospheric perspective, and asymmetrical balance in the composition.

    In Landscape of Winter, the mountains are used as an optical path for the viewer to follow, directing them to a few key points of the piece. The main focal point of the piece is at the top where the division of the mountaintop begins. The off-center line begins light and inconsistent, gently leading the viewer down from the white space and right into the visually busy mountain range. The line becomes more bold and jagged before bluntly ending at another mountaintop halfway down the piece, having lead the viewer to the first sign of life in the piece, a groove of trees sitting atop the mountain on the far right. The trees are drawn with bold strokes more free than those of the mountain and don’t feature much detail beyond an array of bare branches poking in very direction, overlapping and melding together in the middle.

    From the groove of trees, the mountaintop’s rugged shapes leads the viewer down and to the left stopping at the top of at staircase, above which sits three buildings behind a strip of vegetation. The vegetation is made of only very quickly applied points to give a sense of depth and lush life. The buildings behind the vegetation contrast the soft lines of the vegetation and the jagged lines of the mountains with their straight, precise, and purposeful application. Each line of the buildings are straight and connect to other lines conveying an artificial nature. The viewer is then lead down the staircase to the far bottom right, which sits between two mountain sides, contrasting their jagged, sharp lines with it’s clean straight ones. In the middle of the staircase is a human figure, the only non-plant life in the piece, drawn with smooth, clean lines, both curved and straight. He is facing up the stairs and appears to be climbing them towards the buildings, opposite of the movement of the piece, suggesting his uphill struggle in the harsh winter landscape.

    Finishing at the bottom of the staircase, the viewer arrives at two trees, which appear to create an arch suggesting a pathway, also drawn with bold free strokes and many leafless branches in all directions. The trees point to the right, leading the viewer off of the picture plane. The viewer can then take the same path back up through the painting, similar to the path the human figure is taking, and beyond back up into the sky. The strategic placement of mountains creates movement in the piece for the viewer to follow, further enhanced by the brushstroke variation, with focal points providing rest stops for the viewer.

    Sesshu Toyo’s Landscape of Winter initially appears to simply be an abstract dramatized representation of a mountainous winter scene, and to an extent it is. However, there wouldn’t be need to include human presence in the piece if the goal was simply to show nature’s beauty in winter. The human presence, established by the included buildings and stairs, and the lone human figure climbing the mountain suggests the struggle of survival and winter and human resilience. At the same time, the contrast of the human presence, a small part of the overall composition, suggests nature’s superior position. Toyo is commenting on mankind’s subordinate status in relation to the sheer magnitude and power of nature.

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    An Analysis of the Illustration of the Magnitude of Nature in Sesshu Toyos Landscape of Winter. (2022, Nov 25). Retrieved from

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