Calligraphy is often regarded as the purest manifestation of an artist's inner character and level of cultivation, as well as the expression of his soul, thoughts, and feelings. This publication presents some fifty-eight Japanese works, almost all calligraphy, from the remarkable collection formed over the last forty years by Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, literary scholars who became enraptured by the Japanese art of the brush. Their holdings, virtually unique outside Japan, not only embody a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture but also testify to the growing sophistication of Americans' engagement with other cultures. Spanning more than a thousand years from the Nara period (710–784) through the nineteenth century, the material includes sublime early sutras, or transcriptions of the Buddha's discourses an extraordinary mandala that is perhaps the finest example of its kind in the West seminal works by such renowned figures as Myoe, Koetsu, Muso, Konoe, and Daishin engaging letters and poems that illuminate courtly life and powerful graphic statements by Zen monk-artists.
In their "Collectors' Foreword" Sylvan Barnet and William Burto discuss the history of their collection. Their second essay, "Some Western Thoughts on Shodo: The Way of Writing," is directed to the non-Japanese reader and is an illuminating commentary on the ways in which Japanese calligraphy can be appreciated. Miyeko Murase's introduction provides a rich commentary on the Japanese calligraphic scripts and scribes and an insightful overview of the society and world in which this art flourished. All of the works are discussed in texts by leading experts. Mountings of Japanese calligraphy are treated in an appendix.