This grand, sweeping composition depicts blossoming cherry trees by a rushing stream deep in the Yoshino hills, south of Kyoto. The scene runs unbroken from right to left, with the smaller flowers at far left adding a suggestion of distance. Contrasted with the stylized golden clouds and the rich mineral green of the mountain slopes, the flowers—sometimes massed, sometimes individually delineated—are depicted with unusually rich applications of gofun, a unique Japanese pigment made from naturally weathered and crushed seashells. The white of the gofun is offset here and there by the russet tones of buds that are yet to bloom. Moriage (relief) painting is also seen in the two cascades; in addition to the application of gofun here, the bluish tinge to the black lines in the water suggests the use of silver, which has darkened due to oxidation.
The Yoshino hills were among the subjects seen in sixteenth-century screen pairs that refer to specific times of year. Just as screens of young pines (like those introduced in our 2008 publication) stood for the first weeks of the New Year, while those depicting the Uji Bridge indicated the summer months, this scene would have been instantly recognizable as an evocation of early spring. Educated viewers would also have been familiar with the popular conceit that the white blossoms might easily be mistaken for snowflakes. In size, style, and composition, the left-hand screen is very close to an example preserved in the Suntory Museum of Art, dated to the sixteenth century; the similarities extend even to small details such as the cinnabar-red azalea at the base of the second and third panels from the right, and the yamabuki (Kerria japonica) in the lower center. The Suntory screen reportedly bears the signature of Tosa Mitsunobu (1434–1525), with an authentication by Tosa Mitsuyoshi (1700–1772). Another screen in the John C. Weber collection departs in several respects from the earlier model; as the cataloguer notes, if we accept the argument that “a naturalistic phase of representation is followed by a decoratively simplified phase,” the Weber screen is likely to have been made a generation later. More precise dating would require a systematic survey of all of the versions of this composition, mostly unpublished, that have come to light over the past several decades, but it would appear that this extremely rare pair of Yoshinoyama screens represents an early stage in the visual representation of this classic subject. Their excellent state of preservation, as well as the outstanding quality of the metal mounts on their lacquered-wood frames, suggests that they were well cared for by elite owners throughout the Edo period (1615–1868) and into modern times.