Perched alertly on a protruding branch of oak, a hawk leans forward intently, its eyes fixed on unseen prey below and its beak partially opened as if in anticipation of the feast to come. Through skillful positioning of the body of the predator, the artist created an image of great stability yet one that still conveys great potential for swift flight and fearsome action. The importance of the mighty bird as a symbol of military strength and agility is not lost here where the scene is produced through the subtle use of ink in a “boneless” style where lineament is eschewed for disciplined and effective washes of ink. The virile strength of Tadanaga’s style, with a sense of naturalism combined with abstract decorative quality, was highly admired during the late Momoyama-early Edo era, and, naturally, today.
Tadanaga was the son of a cabinet minister, born in the Kazan-in, a place adjacent to the Kazan Emperor’s residence, hence the unusual family name of the aristocrats who served the imperial court at that time. Tadanaga was able to study calligraphy with the eminent Konoe Nobutada (1565-1614) and was ranked along with Honami Koetsu and Shukado Sojo as one of the three great calligraphers of the Kanei era. A life fraught with some notoriety resulted in his banishment from Kyoto for the first half of the 17th century, although his work during that time, and especially his calligraphy, in areas where he settled was quite influential.