Special Exhibition: Celebrating the Beauty of Japanese Art I:
Four Seasons inYamato-e
at Idemitsu Museum of Art
Review by Masayuki Fujiura
Translation by Alice Caffyn
This exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts. The exhibition is split into three installments:yamato-e (Japanese style painting), suiboku-ga (ink painting) and Edo painting. Related crafts and sculpture will also be featured as part of the exhibition. Each of the three installments will feature one volume of the eIllustrated Scrolls on the Courtier Ban Dainagonf which will also be displayed across the three exhibitions.
This first of the three exhibitions is titled eFour Seasons in Yamato-ef. Artworks from the Heian to Edo period are collected under the theme of the four seasons: a uniquely Japanese mode of expression. The expression of seasonality in painting has not been been explored much outside of Japan. However, in Japanese painting, seasonality has come to express temporality, and is considered a key component of landscape painting. Elsewhere, within works inspired by China, India and other countries without a traditional seasonal aesthetic, any incorporation of the seasons feels humorous.
This exhibition begins with picture scrolls from the late Heian period, which could be called the genesis of yamato-e. Considered a masterpiece narrative illustrated scroll, the eIllustrated Stories on the Courtier Ban Dainagonf (Heian Period) is a highlight. In this exhibition, only the first volume of the scroll is displayed. This first volume depicts the origin of the tale: the destruction by arson of one of the main gates of the Kyoto imperial palace, the Otenmon. The first volume depicts the destruction in one sprawling scene; the extension of the scene is longer than any of the other volumes. Beyond the gate we see officials charged with keeping publicorder and the common people gathered to watch the blaze. Within the gate is a group of low ranking officials who worked within the imperial court; from within the imperial palace, a mysterious figure gazes at the distant fire. Among other figures, one who appears to be Chancellor of the Realm, Fujiwara no Yoshifusa, can be seen reporting to the Emperor in the imperial residence.
Illustrated Stories on the Courtier Ban Dainagon
Knowing what followed this event, we understand that this was the political manoeuvre used by the Fujiwara clan who were part of the inner circle of government to take power from the Tomoji clan, descendants of the powerful Omoji clan. However, the veracity of this has never been established. This picture scroll is based on a whispered story; it has been painted with some inference added tothe true story. The movement of the figures is expressed vividly in a way not seen in previous scrolls, and fully demonstrates the uniqueness of the picture scroll as a Japanese form of expression.
Other illustrated scrolls on display include the eIllustrated Sutra of Past Causes and Present Effectf (Nara Period, Important Cultural Property) recognised by many as the original illustrated scroll. The work adds pictorial art to the eSutra of Cause and Effect in the Past and Presentf which depicts the life of the Gautama Buddha. Two works taken from the masterwork ePictures of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetryf: eKakinomoto no Hitomarof and eSojo Henjof (Kamakura period, both Important Cultural Properties) and eIllustrated Scroll of the Story of Priest Saigyof (Tawaraya Sotasu, Edo period, Important Cultural Property), a masterpiece of Medieval scrolls, reveal the development of pictorial expression in Japanese art.
Predominantly produced in the Momoyama period, suiboku-ga succeeded the picture scroll. These works, however, will be collected and displayed in the second exhibition.
Illustrated Sutra of Past and Present Effects
Frequently displayed in the Momoyama period, next are folding screens. These include from the Muromachi period: eFolding Screens of the Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons with the Sun and the Moonf (Important Cultural Property), eFolding Screens of the Flowering Plants of the Four Seasonsf (Important Cultural Property); from the Momoyama period, eRiver Uji with Its Banks and Bridgef and eCherry Blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsutaf and from the early Edo period eAutumn Grasses under the Moonf and eFolding Screens of the Flower and Grasses of the Four Seasonsf.
Among the Muromachi folding screens, in the eFolding Screens of the Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons with the Sun and the Moonf there is no fixed scale of size to the flowering trees. The mist which hangs at the top of the painting appears to have been painted in silver paint. This, however, has since dulled to black.
Elsewhere, in eFlowering Plants of the Four Seasonsf, although we sense the Yamato-e style in the form of the mounds of earth, in the vegetation, the so-called reverse perspectives typical of Chinese painting are evident. This gives the impression that various motifs have been selected and included for practical reasons.
Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons with the Sun and the Moon
The eRiver Uji with Its Banks and Bridge' from the Momoyama period, depicts the transformation of the so-called eWillows at Uji Bridgef from spring to winter. The bridge appears only on one side of the screen; on the other side portraying autumn and winter, the flow of the river and a boat are visible. This is a work with strong decorative expression. The majority of other works use the sun and moon to express transience in scenes, but this work through its depiction of the changing seasons, the fields and the flowof the river succeeds in expressing the breadth of the entire scene.
River Uji with Its Banks and Bridge
The composition of eCherry Blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsutaf breaks the conventions of Yamato-e. Both the cherry blossoms on one side of the screen and the maple leaves on the other spread across the entire scene as if to cover it completely. No gaps are visible. Any sense of negative space, so prevalent in Japanese culture, is lost. This is unprecedented within the tradition of Japanese painting.
Cherry Treee and Maple Tree
In contrast to this, Tawaraya Sotatsufs eFlowers and Grasses of the Four Seasonsf focusses on plants popular since the beginning of Edo, in which we can see an effective use of negative space. This is continued further in Ogata Kenzanfs eSliding Screen of Flowersf. In this small scene, delicate flowers adorn the screen as if they fit the size of the work; we can see that this is the same delicate decoration as used in Kenzan pottery.
Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons
With seal of 'Inen'
Before these works depicted the changing seasons, the works most influenced by Chinese painting in Medieval painting were Buddhist paintings. In this exhibition, beginning with the above mentioned eIllustrated Sutra of Past Causes and Present Effectf exhibits includeePaintings of the Eight Patriarchs of Shingon Sect Buddhismf (Heian period, designated Important Cultural Property), eThe Descentof Amida Buddhaf (Kamakura period), eAmida and Attendant Bodhisattvas Coming Across the Mountainsf (Period of the Northernand Southern Dynasties, Important Art Object), eEleven Headed Kannonf (Period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties),eIllustrated Story of the Origin of Hase-dera Templef and 'Illustrated Scroll of the History of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyotof.
Eight Patriarches of the Singon Sect Buddhism
Set of Eight Hanging Scroll
Important Cultural Property
Within Buddhist painting, there is an assumption that limitations of technique have meant that there have been no real developments in the form. However, this is not the case. For example, within depictions of the descent of Amida Buddha, in Buddhist art work from the Goryeo dynasty, Amida Buddha is depicted standing on the right side of the picture facing left whereas in Japanese painting the figure of Amida Buddha appears standing on the left facing right. Even in this exhibition, the Amida Buddha appears in the centre of the picture, but accompanying Kannon holding a lotus flower and Magasthamaprapta, hands clasped in prayer, are visible behind. The descending figure is depicted clearly facing right, where we sense the presence of spirits of the dead awaiting the Amida Buddha.This highlights the originality of Japanese painting. eIllustrated Scroll of the History of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyotof was painted in honour of Sugawara no Michizane after his death; they depict various events in the history of Kyoto. As a result, the work has become associated with the shrinefs foundation. This expression of narrativity is also evident in ePaintings of the Eight Patriarchsof Shingon Sect Buddhismf. It is thought by many that instead of functioning as a portrait of the eight monks identified as the founders of the Shingon Sect, in portraying two or three scenes illustrating their achievements, the work supports the legitimacy of the teachings of Shingon Buddhism. These achievements are depicted in the legends of other sect founders and are one expression of so called eexplanation by picturef.
The Descent of Amida Buddha and Attendant Bodhisattvas
In this way, although there are traditionally limitations concerning the form of Buddha, the elements which dramatise the narrativity appeal to the Japanese sensibility. Narrative elements are essential to Japanese art, including Buddhist art. This is because many Japanese paintings are grounded in the literary tradition. The Nara and Heian periods saw the composition of waka and stories, as well as the production of art based on those literary works. This tradition has continued since the Medieval period, and provides the foundation for Japanese art.
This Japanese tradition is evident in suiboku-ga from the Muromachi period onwards, Genre works popular in the Edo period, even in Ukiyo-e. The second and third instalments of this exhibition will continue to explore this theme.
Set of Three Hanging Scrolls
Illustrated Story of the Origin of Kitano-Tenjin Shrine, Kyoto
Important Art Object