Jakuchu Ito (伊藤若冲), who lived from 1716-1800, was one of Japan’s most prolific painters during the nation’s Edo period of isolation from the rest of the world. The majority of his works were in the form of hanging scroll paintings, and while they often depicted incredibly intricate scenes from the natural world, one Japanese net user was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this picture of a mother and child gibbon that appears decidedly more playful in nature, and it’s sure to melt your heart!

According to Wikipedia, Ito’s paintings were often of traditionally Japanese subjects yet at the same time pushed contemporary boundaries with modern stylistic elements.

To get a feel for some of his work, check out his “Pictures of the Colorful Realm of Living Beings” (動植綵絵) series, which is a set of 27 astoundingly detailed hanging scrolls that took almost 10 years to complete. They were created as a personal offering to Shokoku-ji, a Buddhist temple founded in 1382 in Kyoto. Two of these paintings, both depicting birds (a common theme in his works), can be found below:

▼”Rooster and Hen with Hydrangeas”


▼”Old Pine Tree and Phoenix”


Another one of Ito’s most famous paintings is the following six-fold screen, which features a white elephant and other animals in a garden. Ito’s gridded approach to drawing the painting makes it unique for the time period.

▼”Birds and Animals in the Flower Garden” (鳥獣花木図屏風)


But what may be our all-time favorite work of his is this humorous little gem, known as “Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon.”

▼”Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon,” circa 1770


Doesn’t it just make your heart squeal?

As adorable as the gibbons are, it turns out there’s actually a very deep meaning behind this piece. The painting’s explanation is described as follows on the Kimbell Art Museum’s website:

“This charming painting depicts a mother gibbon dangling her baby by the arm as she hangs from a tendril suspended from a tree. The title of the painting is a reference to the Zen Buddhist concept that simple people and animals often mistake the reflection of the moon for the moon itself. In this case it is both the baby gibbon and its mother who are trying to grasp the moon’s reflection in the water—though not physically depicted here, its presence is understood. The subject also alludes to the dilemma of the human condition: we reach for the unreal (in this case the reflection of the moon) instead of looking for proper spiritual substance. Jakuchu has imbued the subject with both humor and affection—the gibbons may be confused, but if they stop searching for the truth, all will be lost. And although the moon is not actually represented, its round shape is mirrored in the gibbons’ faces.”

There you have it: proof that even the masters can draw something cute every now and then.

Sources/Images: Japaaan, Wikipedia (English), Tadayoshi Murakami Website, FC2 Blog Blue Diary