Japanese painting medieval history

Japanese painting medieval history


Kamakura period (1185-1333)

These genres continued on through Kamakura period Japan. E-maki of various kinds continued to be produced; however, the Kamakura period was much more strongly characterized by the art of sculpture, rather than painting.

As most of the paintings in the Heian and Kamakura periods are religious in nature, the vast majority are by anonymous artists.

Muromachi period (1333-1573)


During the 14th century, the development of the great Zen monasteries in Kamakura and Kyoto had a major impact on the visual arts. Suibokuga, an austere monochrome style of ink painting introduced from Sung and Yuan dynasty China largely replaced the polychrome scroll paintings of the previous period, although some polychrome portraiture remained – primary in the form of chinso paintings of Zen monks.Typical of such painting is the depiction by the priest-painter Kao of the legendary monk Kensu (Hsien-tzu in Chinese) at the moment he achieved enlightenment. This type of painting was executed with quick brush strokes and a minimum of detail.

‘Catching a Catfish with a Gourd’ (located at Taizo-in, Myoshin-ji, Kyoto), by the priest-painter Josetsu, marks a turning point in Muromachi painting. In the foreground a man is depicted on the bank of a stream holding a small gourd and looking at a large slithery catfish. Mist fills the middle ground, and the background, mountains appear to be far in the distance. It is generally assumed that the “new style” of the painting, executed about 1413, refers to a more Chinese sense of deep space within the picture plane

By the end of the 14th century, monochrome landscape paintings (sansuiga) had found patronage by the ruling Ashikaga family and was the preferred genre among Zen painters, gradually evolving from its Chinese roots to a more Japanese style.

The foremost artists of the Muromachi period are the priest-painters Shūbun and Sesshū. Shūbun, a monk at the Kyoto temple of Shokoku-ji, created in the painting Reading in a Bamboo Grove(1446) a realistic landscape with deep recession into space. Sesshū, unlike most artists of the period, was able to journey to China and study Chinese painting at its source. Landscape of the Four Seasons (Sansui Chokan; c. 1486) is one of Sesshu’s most accomplished works, depicting a continuing landscape through the four seasons.

In the late Muromachi period, ink painting had migrated out of the Zen monasteries into the art world in general, as artists from the Kano school and the Ami school adopted the style and themes, but introducing a more plastic and decorative effect that would continue into modern times.

Important artists in the Muromachi period Japan include:

  • Mokkei (circa 1250)
  • Mokuan Reien (d.1345)
  • Kao Ninga (e.14th century)
  • Mincho (1352-1431)
  • Josetsu (1405-1423)
  • Tenshō Shūbun(d.1460)
  • Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506)
  • Kano Masanobu (1434-1530)
  • Kano Motonobu (1476-1559)

Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603)

azuchiIn sharp contrast to the previous Muromachi period, the Azuchi Momoyama period was characterized by a grandiose polychrome style, with extensive use of gold and silver foil, and by works on a very large scale. The Kano school, patronized by Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and their followers and gained tremendously in size and prestige. Kano Eitoku developed a formula for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. These huge screens and wall paintings were commissioned to decorate the castles and palaces of the military nobility. This status continued into the subsequent Edo period, as the Tokugawa bakufu continued to promote the works of the Kano school as the officially sanctioned art for the Shogun,daimyo, and Imperial court.

However, non-Kano school artists and currents existed and developed during the Azuchi-Momoyama period as well, adapting Chinese themes to Japanese materials and aesthetics. One important group was the Tosa school, which developed primarily out of the yamato-e tradition, and which was known mostly for small scale works and illustrations of literary classics in book oremaki format.

Important artists in the Azuchi-Momoyama period include:

  • Kano Eitoku (1543-1590)
  • Kano Sanraku (1559-1663)
  • Kano Tanyu (1602-1674)
  • Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)
  • Kaiho Yusho (1533-1615)

Edo period (1603-1868)

edo periodMany art historians show the Edo period as a continuation of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Certainly, during the early Edo period, many of the previous trends in painting continued to be popular; however, a number of new trends also emerged.

One very significant school which arose in the early Edo period was the Rimpa school, which used classical themes, but presented them in a bold, and lavishly decorative format. Sōtatsu in particular evolved a decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds. A century later, Korin reworked Sōtatsu’s style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own.

Another important genre which began during Azuchi-Momoyama period, but which reached its full development during the early Edo period was Namban art, both in the depiction of exotic foreigners and in the use of the exotic foreigner style in painting. This genre was centered around the port of Nagasaki, which after the start of the national seclusion policy of the Tokugawa bakufu was the only Japanese port left open to foreign trade, and was thus the conduit by which Chinese and European artistic influences came to Japan. Paintings in this genre include Nagasaki school paintings, and also the Maruyama-Shijo school, which combine Chinese and Western influences with traditional Japanese elements.

A third important trend in the Edo period was the rise of the Bunjinga (literati painting) genre, also known as the Nanga school (Southern Painting school). This genre started as an imitation of the works of Chinese scholar-amateur painters of the Yuan dynasty, whose works and techniques came to Japan in the mid 18th century. Later bunjinga artists considerably modified both the techniques and the subject matter of this genre to create a blending of Japanese and Chinese styles. The exemplars of this style are Ike no Taiga, Uragami Gyokudo, Yosa Buson, Tanomura Chikuden, Tani Buncho, and Yamamoto Baiitsu.

Due to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s policies of fiscal and social austerity, the luxurious modes of these genre and styles were largely limited to the upper strata of society, and were unavailable, if not actually forbidden to the lower classes. The common people developed a separate type of art, the fuzokuga, in which painting depicting scenes from common, everyday life, especially that of the common people, kabuki theatre, prostitutes and landscapes were popular. These paintings in the 16th century gave rise to the semi-mass produced woodcut print, or ukiyoe, which was one of the defining media of the mid to late Edo period.

Important artists in the Edo period include:

  • Tawaraya Sōtatsu (d.1643)
  • Ogata Korin (1658–1716)
  • Gion Nankai (1677–1751)
  • Sakaki Hyakusen (1697–1752)
  • Yanagisawa Kien (1704–1758)
  • Yosa Buson (1716–1783)
  • Ito Jakuchu (1716–1800)
  • Ike no Taiga (1723–1776)
  • Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795)
  • Okada Beisanjin (1744–1820)
  • Uragami Gyokudo (1745–1820)
  • Matsumura Goshun (1752–1811)
  • Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
  • Tani Buncho (1763–1840)
  • Tanomura Chikuden (1777–1835)
  • Okada Hanko (1782–1846)
  • Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856)
  • Watanabe Kazan (1793–1841)
  • Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)
  • Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891)
  • Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924)

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