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leafArt  &  Design  

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the beginning | family crests | bonsai|textile - fukiyose | Arita porcelain | logos - symbols |
Art Nouveau - Jugendstil - Art deco | woodcraft | More art in 20th century | picture gallery| stamps

Ginkgo Golden Number (picture  © Rojas)


Busan (photo Bokcheon Museum)Bronze instrument with end bells
From excavation site no. 22, tomb at Bokcheon-dong tumulus group in Busan, South Korea.
Size: 11.3cm long. Material: bronze.
The instrument consists of a long stick with a round ring at the end, seven Ginkgo-shape bells are attached on the ring. Each bell has four holes and a small bead inside. Sound is made by shaking the bells . A piece of wooden stick is attached to the instrument and it is assumed that the instrument was inserted on top of a long wooden stick. The instrument is believed to have been used as a symbol of social status or in burial ceremonies.

Bokcheon Museum: history of  Busan from the prehistoric age to the Three Kingdoms Era (57 BC to AD 668). 


. Ginkgo leaves (photo Cor Kwant)

In China the Ginkgo is depicted on a silk painting by GuKaiZhi (345-400 AD) of the poem "LuoShenFu"  and on  'The Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove and Rong Qiqi', relief-murals on bricks of the walls of (royal) tombs of the late 4th - early 5th century AD and of the late 5th century AD (picture below and many more here). More pictures in my gallery. In the oldest classic Chinese literature the Ginkgo is not mentioned, but in the 11th century (Sung dynasty) it appeared in literature as a plant native to eastern China. 
In a poem by Ou-Yang Xiu is written: “Ginkgo grows south of the Yangtze River, the name coincides with its substance. Since the nuts have been used in tribute, then it is considered precious in the Capital“.

From that time on the Ginkgo is depicted on Chinese paintings and appeared in poetry. Many famous poets praised its ‘fruits’ and sometimes also its leaves. Especially the poets Ou-Yang Xiu and Mei Yao-ch’en, who had both official positions in the capital Kaifeng, exchanged verses about the Ginkgo.  The seed is often compared with the walnut by Sung-poets which was a popular fruit of the north.

In Hsuan Ho Hua P’u, Catalogue of Paintings of the Imperial Collection of the reign of Emperor Huei Tsung (reign 1101-1125) several paintings of the Ginkgo are listed. One is titled “A picture of Yin Hsing (Silver Apricot) and the bird Pei Tou Wen” made by an artist called Yo Shih-hsuan, an official of the reign of Emperor Shen Tsung (1067-1084). Another entry lists two paintings of “A study of Ya Chio (Duck’s Foot)” by Prince Tuan Hsien Wang, 4th son of the Emperor Yin Tsung (reign 1063-1066) and brother of Emperor Shen Tsung.

seven virtuous men

Part of relief-mural of  'The Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove and Rong Qiqi' 
found on a tomb  in Xishanqiao, Nanjing, China.
Late 4th - early 5th century A.D.  Ginkgo tree on the right.

The first description of the Ginkgo found in Japanese literature is of 1530 when the poet Socho wrote in his travel diary (1530) that he had gathered yellow Ginkgo leaves and gave them to someone together with a waka.
In the Edo period the Ginkgo was described as being familiair in everyday life by Kikaku, Buson, Shoha (in haiku) and Ryokan (waka). In this period the Ginkgo is also mentioned in lists of season words used for haiku.
Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) and Saito Mokichi (1882-1953) and also ordinary people have composed verses about Ginkgo. 
In prose too, Ginkgo has played an important role as an element by which people were soothed or given energy etc. in various plots of novels or stories. Examples can be found in novels such as “Hakai” by Shimazaki, “Sanshiro” by Natsume and short stories such as “Hana” by Akutagawa.

Many legends are written in Chinese and Japanese relating to the Ginkgo. In Japan the Ginkgo is often used in haiku-poems and is then called 'icho-ba(ne)' meaning Ginkgo-feather.

Ofuji or Miss Ginkgo or Icho Musume, Edo, Japan

Ofuji, nickname 'Miss Ginkgo' (Icho Musume), on woodblock print 
by Kitagawa Utamaro, Japan, Edo period c. 1793-1794.
Ofuji (right) with pattern of ginkgo leaves and the characters "Fuji" 
on her cotton robe handing over a handscroll to Okita.

From about the 17th till 19th century the Ginkgo appeared as a motif on swords, handmirrors, ceramics, tsubas. 
In 1712 the first botanical drawing of the Ginkgo for the western world was published made by Kaempfer, in 1835 followed by Von Siebold

A watercolour of a Ginkgo branch wearing seeds (1767) by a Chinese artist working for John Bradby Blake in Canton, China,  is probably the first Western documentation of Ginkgo from its native China, in the 1850s followed by a watercolour by a Chinese artist working for Robert Fortune showing a mature Ginkgo with a small human figure.

Ginkgo branch, Blake 1767
cGinkgo with small figure -  Fortune 1850s

From the 19th century on the Ginkgo motif is also found on brooches, buckles, (hair)pins, necklaces. In Japan on ceramics (plates, vases etc.), paintings, woodcarving, kimonos, , lacquerware, textile and prints. In 1815 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote his famous poem about the Ginkgo.
More literature on my Literature-page.


Adonis plant and two fans
by Totoya Hokkei, Japan, about 1830
In fans inscribed two poems by Ichotei Mitsunori and Fudegaki Kuroko
Surimono shikishiban, 21x18 cm

Confucius and the Ginkgo
Stone tablet, Xian, China -
Confucius and the Ginkgo

Chinese bowl  with Ginkgo leaves and seeds, 15th century
Chinese bowl with Ginkgo leaves and seeds, 15th century

Illustration in Pen Tsao Kang Mu 1578
Illustration in Chinese
Pen Tsao Kang Mu - 1578

Tanka by Yosano Akiko
Tanka by Akiko
Translation from Japanese:
In garments of gold
They look like little birdies
Dancing in the sky
The leaves of the Ginkgo tree
Floating down in the late sun.

Tsuba with Ginkgo leaves  and dew drops (photo Jim Gilbert)
Ko Shoami tsuba (iron handguard), Momoyama, h.8.2 cm
The Ginkgo is a symbol of samurai loyalty.
photo © Jim Gilbert

Iron tsuba: Icho-zu
Signature: Bushu Jyu Masayoshi
length: 7.99cm, width: 7.94cm
Middle Edo period

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), portrait with poem, ca. 1861, actor: Kataoka Nizaemon VIII or IX
Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), portrait
with poem, c. 1861,
actor: Kataoka Nizaemon VIII or IX

bowl Kangxi period China (photo Cor Kwant)
bowl with lid
China, Kangxi period

More pictures in 
my picture gallery.

. . .

Ou-Yang Xiu (picture: Chinapage.com)
Ou-Yang Xiu (1007-1072 A.D.)  wrote in a poem to Mei:
(summary from Chinese)

"Human nature changes in time. Someone should record the beginning so that future generations can know its (= the Ginkgo) origin. This is thus not only continuing your verse, but also contributing to history".

. Ginkgo leaves (photo Cor Kwant)


In Japan family crests with a Ginkgo-leaf design have been used since the Middle Ages. Family crests appear on roof tiles, gates, walls of castles, temples, shrines, mansions or are engraved on gravestones and swordguards. They are also dyed or woven in flags and ceremonial kimonos and so on.
Nowadays they are not often used on buildings, but are still used on gravestones and black ceremonial kimonos (weddings/funerals).

familycrest brooch with Ginkgo (photo Cor Kwant)family crest brooch (photo Cor Kwant)
silver brooches  with family crest 

The leaves are used in more than 100 patterns, classified by the number of leaves (1 to 16) and also by the arrangement of the leaves. Many make a circle or are encircled, some in a square shape, diamond, pentagon, hexagon, etc. Some are combined with other plants or are shaped like a butterfly or crane.
A family crest composed of three leaves among approx. 260 crests for families varying in social rank from shogun to commoner is found in “Kikigaki Shokamon”, a book of heraldry written at the time of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490). In 1687 Ihara described a kimono with Ginkgo crest in Nanshoku Okagami.


family crest
heraldry flag

cloth with family crest
family crest (kamon) on cloth
Tsutsugaki design

. . .


Ginkgo bonsai (photo HeMeng)
Bonsai first appeared in China over a thousand years ago by growing single specimen trees in pots.  In Beijing Botanical garden in China you can see a Ginkgo bonsai said to be about 1,300 years old. In the Heian period (794 - 1191A.D.) bonsai came to Japan. 
Refined to a high art in Japan, bonsai can offer a philosophical and aesthetic communion with nature.
At the end of the 19th century bonsai also came to the west.

Read more  about the Ginkgo on my Bonsai-page.



enlarge picture
dofuku kimono (photo Tokyo National Museum)
Kimonos with the Ginkgo leaf design first appeared in the Momoyama period (1585-1603). Example of a short overcoat on picture above. From that time on Ginkgo leaves have often been used in kimono patterns together with leaves of the maple, oak, pine etc. This is called fukiyose, because it shows fallen leaves being blown by a strong autumn wind. Today fukiyose patterns are seen on ties, scarves, handkerchiefs etc. and on autumnal kimonos.
fukiyose (photo Cor Kwant)
The Ginkgo is further shown on a picture of a flower vase called icho-guchi (Ginkgo mouth vase)  depicted in “Okazari no sho” (1523). This icho-guchi is also mentioned by Matsuya in 1613 used during a tea ceremony. In 1655 two incense cases with a Ginkgo leaf on the lids were made at Nin’naji Temple in Kyoto.
Also in the Momoyama and Edo periods lacquered works were made.
.Arita porcelain (photo Cor Kwant)
.Arita porcelain (photo Cor Kwant)

Plates with Ginkgo leaves
Japan 1650-1670, Arita porcelain
Shibata Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum in Arita, Japan

Nature was an important source of inspiration.

. .


Tokyo city and metro symbol
Tokyo city and metro symbol

Osaka University logo
Osaka University logo

Urasenke tea school symbol

Flora of China
logo Flora of China - 
Harvard University Herbaria

Logos -symbols

The Nakamura family of the Kabuki theater had a logo that used a Ginkgo leaf shaped into a crane and put it on a flag. This is mentioned in Nisemonogatari Tsuhosho (1785). It is pictured on a print Nakamura-za Shibai-zu by Okumura Masanobu in 1731 and the logo can also be seen  three times on the print left (part of Nakamuraza Naigai no Zu by Utagawa Toyokuni, 1817).

Today many towns, cities, prefectures, incl. Tokyo, use the Ginkgo leaf logo on printed materials etc. and universities and high schools use the logo on badges, stationery etc.
The Ginkgo symbolizes peace, longevity, life-death, hope, love, yin yang, east-west and so on.

Cambridge University
University of Cambridge- Plant Sciences
Botanical Society of China
Botanical Society of China


. Ginkgo leaves (photo Cor Kwant)


At the end of the 19th century artists of the Art Nouveau movement (New Art, Jugendstil, Secession) in France, Germany, Bohemen, Belgium and other countries started using among others the Ginkgo motif  (branches, leaves and seeds) for their works of art.

Nancy was the centre of this movement in France inspired particularly by Japonisme. The Ecole de Nancy's interpretation of Art Nouveau consisted of nature depicted with fierce realism, whereas elsewhere it was more abstract  and refined or absent.

Excelsior, Nancy (photo Cor Kwant)

stained-glass window painted  by Jacques Gruber with Ginkgo leaves and seeds, 1910
Brasserie l’Excelsior Flo,  Nancy 

Click here  for my special page about Art Nouveau and Ginkgo in the l’Ecole de Nancy.

In France (Nancy and Paris) the Ginkgo motif in this style was used on ceramics and glass (Gallé, Gruber, Daum), in architecture, on wrought iron work, for instance lamp foots (Majorelle, Brandt), on ornaments made of gold and silver and other material (combs, brooches, buckles, necklaces, (hair)pins and so on), on furniture (Majorelle) and on silver-plated metal objects. Branches with leaves and seeds were used in public and private buildings, on building facades, balconies, door and window posts.

Jugendstil in Germany was more stylised than Art Nouveau. Examples are metal objects, for instance Friedrich Adler (designer) and Theodor von Gosen (sculptor, gold- and silversmith), and prints in books and magazines. 
Secession in Bohemen: here the Art nouveau style was used with brooches, necklaces, rings etc. The style can also be seen on buildings in Prague (Czech Republic). 

Hotel Central, Prague (photo Cor Kwant)

Ginkgo branches, leaves and seeds on facade of  Hotel Central in Prague, 1898-1900

Click here  for my special page about Art Nouveau and Ginkgo in Prague.

In Vienna ornaments in the new style were made among which a very expensive necklace and earrings made of gold, platinum and diamonds with Ginkgo leaves and seeds design by Roset & Fischmeister (c. 1900).

The Ginkgo motif is also used in the later Art Deco period.

Majorelle (photo Cor Kwant)
BNP, Majorelle, 1910
.enlarge picture 

comb Art Nouveau
horn comb, c. 1900

Art Nouveau vase - Daum
vase by Daum, 1905

Sandoz necklace
necklace by Sandoz

Brandt lamp
Art deco: wrought iron table lamp
by Edgar Brandt

. . .

More art & design on the second part of my Art-page.

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©  Cor Kwant 
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