―“Irises” Folding-Screen Painting (National Treasure of Japan), This painting on a pair of folding screens is a famous example of the work of Ogata Korin (1658-1716), a prominent painter of the Rinpa school and whose highly accomplished art possessed a distinctly Japanese character. Korin used golf leaf to express the light at the edge of the water where irises naturally grow, over which he then painted the irises in a finely balanced arrangement. This rhythmical design has often been praised for its “musical beauty”.
What would it be like actually to convert this folding-screen painting into music? Firstly, the vertical axis should be set as the pitch and the horizontal axis as the tempo, with musical notes substituted for the arrangement of the flowers. And so the whole folding screen then seems to become a musical score, which can be played from either the right or left side. Doing this, the reprise of motifs and balance between the left and right panels creates a beautiful melody.
2015 marked the fourth centenary since the founding of the Rinpa school in Kyoto. From this musical conversion we can acquire a sense of the outstanding innovativeness of Korin, who was an early pioneer of using painting to express abstract ideas.