or is an illustrated horizontal narration system of painted handscrolls that dates back to the Nara period
in 8th century CE
Japan, initially copying its much older Chinese counterparts. Japanese scrolls, however, stood out distinctly during the Heian
and Kamakura period
s; the term "emakimono" therefore refers only to Japanese painted narrative scrolls.
As in the Chinese and Korean scrolls, combine calligraphy and illustrations and are painted, drawn or stamped on long rolls of paper or silk sometimes measuring several metres. The reader unwinds each scroll little by little, revealing the story as seen fit. are therefore a narrative genre similar to the book, developing romantic or epic stories, or illustrating religious texts and legends. Fully anchored in the style, these Japanese works are above all an everyday art, centered on the human being and the sensations conveyed by the artist.
Although the first scrolls were from the 8th century and copies of Chinese works, of Japanese taste appeared from the 10th century in the Heian imperial court
, especially among aristocratic ladies with refined and reclusive lives, who devoted themselves to all of the arts, poetry, painting, calligraphy and literature. However, no remain from the era and the oldest masterpieces date from their "golden age" in the 12th and 13th centuries. During this period, in fact, the techniques of composition were accomplished and the subjects were even more varied than before, dealing with history, religion, romances, tales, etc. The patrons who sponsored the creation of these were above all the aristocrats and the Buddhist temples. From the 14th century, the genre became more marginal, giving way to new movements born mainly from zen
paintings mostly belong to the style, characterized by its subjects from Japanese life and landscapes, the staging of the human, and an emphasis on rich colours and a decorative appearance. The format of the , long scrolls of limited height, requires the solving of all kinds of composition problems: it is first necessary to make the transitions between the different scenes that accompany the story, to choose a point of view that reflects the narration, and to create a rhythm that best expresses the feelings and emotions of the moment. In general, there are thus two main categories of : those which alternate the calligraphy and the image, each new painting illustrating the preceding text, and those which present continuous paintings, not interrupted by the text, where various technical measures allow the fluid transitions between the scenes.
Today, offer a unique historical glimpse into the life and customs of Japanese people, of all social classes and all ages, during the early part of medieval times. Few of the scrolls have survived intact, and around 20 are protected as National Treasures of Japan
The term or , often abbreviated as , is made up of the kanji
, and . The term refers to long scrolls of painted paper or silk, which range in length from under a metre to several metres long. Some "can reach up to forty feet in length." The scrolls tell a story or a succession of anecdotes (such as literary chronicles or Buddhist parables), combining pictorial and narrative elements, the combination of which characterises the dominant art movements in Japan between the 12th and 14th centuries.
An is read, according to the traditional method, sitting on a mat with the scroll placed on a low table or on the floor. The reader then unwinds with one hand while rewinding it with the other hand, from right to left (according to the writing direction of Japanese). In this way, only part of the story can be seen – about , though more can be unrolled – and the artist creates a succession of images to construct the story.
Once the has been read, the reader must rewind the scroll again in its original reading direction. The is kept closed by a cord and stored alone or with other rolls in a box intended for this purpose, and which is sometimes decorated with elaborate patterns. An can consist of several successive scrolls as required of the story - the was made up of 48 scrolls, although the standard number typically falls between one and three.
An is made up of two elements: the sections of calligraphic text known as , and the sections of paintings referred to as ; their size, arrangement and number vary greatly, depending on the period and the artist. In inspired by literature, the text occupies no less than two-thirds of the space, while other more popular works, such as the , favour the image, sometimes to the point of making the text disappear. The scrolls have a limited height (on average between and ), compared with their length (on average to ), meaning that are therefore limited to being read alone, historically by the aristocracy and members of the high clergy.
File:Ippen shonin eden - Scroll 7 - complete.jpg|Example of a complete scroll of an , the (seventh scroll, 1299, Tokyo National Museum). Reading direction is from right to left. Traditionally, the reader never fully unwinds the roll, but unwinds it with one hand while rewinding it with the other, learning the story piecemeal.
Handscrolls are believed to have been invented in India before the 4th century CE. They were used for religious texts and entered China by the 1st century. Handscrolls were introduced to Japan centuries later through the spread of Buddhism. The earliest extant Japanese handscroll was created in the 8th century and focuses on the life of the Buddha.
The origins of Japanese handscrolls can be found in China
and, to a lesser extent, in Korea
, the main sources of Japanese artistic inspiration until modern times. Narrative art forms in China can be traced back to between the 3rd century CE under the Han dynasty
and the 2nd century CE under the Zhou dynasty
, the pottery of which was adorned with hunting scenes juxtaposed with movements. Paper
was invented in China in about the 1st century CE, simplifying the writing on scrolls of laws or sutra, sometimes decorated. The first narrative scrolls arrived later; various masters showed interest in this medium, including Gu Kaizhi
(345-406), who experimented with new techniques. Genre painting
and Chinese characters, dominant in the scrolls up to the 10th century CE, remain little known to this day, because they were overshadowed by the famous landscape scrolls of the Song dynasty
Relations with East Asia (mainly China and Korea) brought Chinese writing (kanji) to Japan by the 4th century, and Buddhism
in the 6th century, together with interest in the apparently very effective bureaucracy of the mighty Chinese Empire
. In the Nara period
, the Japanese were inspired by the Tang dynasty
: administration, architecture, dress customs or ceremonies. The exchanges between China and Japan were also fruitful for the arts, mainly religious arts, and the artists of the Japanese archipelago were eager to copy and appropriate continental techniques. In that context, experts assume that the first Chinese painted scrolls arrived on the islands around the 6th century CE, and probably correspond to illustrated sutra. Thus, the oldest known Japanese narrative painted scroll (or ) dates from the 7th century to the Nara period: the , which traces the life of the Gautama Buddha
, founder of the Buddhist religion, until his Illumination. Still naive in style (Six Dynasties
and early Tang dynasty) with the paintings arranged in friezes above the text, it is very likely a copy of an older Chinese model, several versions of which have been identified. Although subsequent classical feature a very different style from that of this work, it foreshadows the golden age of the movement that came four centuries later, from the 12th century CE onwards.
Heian period: genesis of the art
Arts and literature, birth of a national aesthetic
The Heian period
appears today as a peak of Japanese civilization via the culture of the emperor's court, although intrigue and disinterest in things of the state resulted in the Genpei War
That perception arises from the aesthetics and the codified and refined art of living that developed at the Heian court, as well as a certain restraint and melancholy born from the feeling of the impermanence of things (a state of mind referred to as in Japanese).
Furthermore, the rupture of relations with China until the 9th century, due to disorders related to the collapse of the glorious Tang dynasty
, promoted what Miyeko Murase has described as the "emergence of national taste" as a truly Japanese culture departed for the first time from Chinese influence since the early Kofun period
. That development was first observed in the literature
of the Heian women: unlike the men, who studied Chinese writing from a young age, the women adopted a new syllabary
, , which was simpler and more consistent with the phonetics of Japanese.
Heian period novels () and diaries () recorded intimate details about life, love affairs and intrigues at court as they developed; the best known of these is the radical ''Tale of Genji
'' by Murasaki Shikibu
, courtesan of the 10th century.
The beginnings of the Japanese-inspired Heian period painting technique, retrospectively named , can be found initially in some aspects of Buddhist painting of the new esoteric Tendai
sects, then more strongly in Pure Land Buddhism
(); after a phase when Chinese techniques were copied, the art of the Japanese archipelago became progressively more delicate, lyrical, decorative with less powerful but more colorful compositions. Nevertheless, it was especially in secular art that the nascent was felt most strongly;
its origins went back to the sliding partitions
of the Heian Imperial Palace
, covered with paintings on paper or silk, the themes of which were chosen from court poetry, annual rites, seasons or the famous lives and landscapes of the archipelago ().
This secular art then spread among the nobles, especially the ladies interested in the illustration of novels, and seems to have become prevalent early in the 10th century. As with religious painting, the themes of Japanese life, appreciated by the nobles, did not fit well with painting of Chinese sensibility, so much so that court artists developed to a certain extent a new national technique which appeared to be fashionable in the 11th century, for example in the seasonal landscapes of the panel paintings in the or Amida
Hall at the Byōdō-in
temple, a masterpiece of primitive of the early 11th century.
Experts believe that illustrations of novels and painted narrative scrolls, or , developed in the vein of this secular art, linked to literature and poetry. The painting technique lent itself fully to the artistic tastes of the court in the 11th century, inclined to an emotional, melancholic and refined representation of relations within the palace, and formed a pictorial vector very suited to the narrative.
Even though they are mentioned in the antique texts, no of the early Heian period (9th and 10th centuries) remains extant today; the oldest illustrating a novel mentioned in period sources is that of the , offered to the Empress between 872 and 907.
However, the stylistic mastery of later works (from the 12th century) leads most experts to believe that the "classical" art of grew during this period from the 10th century, first appearing in illustrations in novels or diaries produced by the ladies of the court. In addition, the initial themes remained close to poetry (seasons, Buddhism, nature and other themes). Therefore, the slow maturation of the movement of was closely linked to the emergence of Japanese culture and literature, as well as to the interest of courtesans soon joined by professional painters from palace workshops () or temples, who created a more "professional" and successful technique. The art historians consider that the composition and painting techniques they see in the masterpieces of the late Heian period (second half of the 12th century) were already very mature.
Fujiwara Era: classical masterpieces
If almost all belong to the genre of , several sub-genres stand out within this style, including in the Heian period ("women's painting") and ("men's painting"). Several classic scrolls of each genre perfectly represent these pictorial movements.
First, the (designed between around 1120 and 1140), illustrating the famous eponymous novel, narrates the political and amorous intrigues of Prince Hikaru Genji
; the rich and opaque colors affixed over the entire surface of the paper ( method), the intimacy and melancholy of the composition and finally the illustration of the emotional peaks of the novel taking place only inside the Imperial Palace
are characteristics of the subgenre of , reserved for court narratives usually written by aristocratic ladies.
In that scroll, each painting illustrates a key episode of the novel and is followed by a calligraphic extract on paper richly decorated with gold and silver powder.
The already presents the composition techniques specific to the art of : an oblique point of view, the movement of the eyes guided by long diagonals from the top right to the bottom left, and even the removal of the roofs to represent the interior of buildings (). A second notable example of the paintings in the Heian period is the , which appears to be very similar to the , but presents softer and more decorative paintings giving pride of place to the representation of nature subtly emphasising the feelings of the characters
In contrast with court paintings inspired by women's novels () there are other scrolls inspired by themes such as the daily lives of the people, historical chronicles, and the biographies of famous monks; ultimately, a style of depicting matters outside the palace and called ("men's painting").
The (middle of the 12th century), with dynamic and free lines, light colors and a decidedly popular and humorous tone, perfectly illustrate this movement, not hesitating to depict the life of the Japanese people in its most insignificant details. Here, the color is applied only in light touches that leave the paper bare, as the supple and free line dominates the composition, unlike the constructed paintings of the court. In addition, the text occupies very limited space, the artist painting rather long scenes without fixed limits.
Two other masterpieces emerged into the light of day during the second half of the 12th century.
First, the forms a monochrome sketch in ink
gently caricaturing the customs of Buddhist monks, where the spontaneity of touch stands out. Secondly, the tells of a political conspiracy in the year 866
by offering a surprising mixture of the two genres and , with free lines and sometimes light, sometimes rich and opaque colors; this meeting of genres foreshadows the style that dominated a few decades later, during the Kamakura period
While the authority of the court rapidly declined, the end of the Heian period (in 1185) was marked by the advent of the provincial lords (in particular, the Taira
and the Minamoto
), who acquired great power at the top of State. Exploiting the unrest associated with the Genpei War
, which provided fertile ground for religious proselytism, the six realms
(or ) Buddhist paintings () – such as the ''Hell Scroll
'' or the two versions of the , paintings – aimed to frighten the faithful with horror scenes.
Retracing the evolution of remains difficult, due to the few works that have survived. However, the obvious mastery of the classical scrolls of the end of the Heian period testifies to at least a century of maturation and pictorial research. These foundations permitted the artists of the ensuing Kamakura period to engage in sustained production in all of the themes.
Kamakura period: the golden age of
The era covering the end of the Heian period and much of the Kamakura period
, or the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is commonly described by art historians as "the golden age" of the art of .
Under the impetus of the new warrior class in power, and the new Buddhist sects, production was indeed very sustained and the themes and techniques more varied than before.
The style of the time was characterized by two aspects: the synthesis of the genres of , and realism. Initially, the evolution marked previously by the (very late Heian era) was spreading very widely due to the importance given both to the freedom of brush strokes and the lightness of the tones (), as well as bright colors rendered by thick pigments for certain elements of the scenes (). However, the very refined appearance of the court paintings later gave way to more dynamic and popular works, at least in relation to the theme, in the manner of the . For example, the recounts the life and death of Sugawara no Michizane
, Minister in the 9th century and tragic figure in Japanese history, revered in the manner of a god (). The rich colours, the tense contours, the search for movement and the very realistic details of the faces well illustrate this mixture of styles, especially as the paintings drew their inspiration from both Buddhism
The realistic trends that were in vogue in Kamakura art, perfectly embodied by sculpture
, were exposed in the majority of the Kamakura ; indeed, the shogunate system held power over Japan, and the refined and codified art of the court gave way to more fluidity and dynamism. The greater simplicity advocated in the arts led to a more realistic and human representation (anger, pain or size). If the activity related to religion was prolific, then so too were the orders of the (noble warriors). Several of historical or military chronicles are among the most famous, notably the (no longer extant) and the ; of the latter, the scroll kept at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
remains highly regarded for its mastery of composition (which reaches a crescendo at the dramatic climax of the scroll, i.e. the burning of the palace and the bloody battle between foot soldiers), and for its contribution to our present day understanding of Japanese medieval weapons and armour. Akiyama Terukazu describes it as "a masterpiece on the subject of the world's military." In the same spirit, a noble warrior had the designed to recount his military exploits during the Mongol invasions of Japan
. Kamakura art particularly flourished in relation to realistic portraiture (); if the characters in the therefore evolved towards greater pictorial realism, some, such as the , or the attributed to Fujiwara no Nobuzane
, directly present portrait galleries according to the iconographic techniques of the time.
A similar change was felt in religion as the esoteric Buddhist sects of the Heian era (Tendai
) gave way to Pure Land Buddhism
(), which primarily addressed the people by preaching simple practices of devotion to the Amida Buddha
. These very active sects used intensively during the 13th and 14th centuries to illustrate and disseminate their doctrines.
Several religious practices influenced the Kamakura : notably, public sermons and picture explaining sessions (, ) led the artists to use scrolls of larger size than usual, and to represent the protagonists of the story in a somewhat disproportionate way compared with of the standard sizes, to enable those protagonists to be seen from a distance, in a typically Japanese non-realistic perspective (such as the ). The religious of the Kamakura period focus on the foundation of the temples, or the lives of famous monks.
During that period, many of the religious institutions commissioned the workshops of painters (often monk-painters) to create recounting their foundation, or the biography of the founding monk. Among the best-known works on such themes are the illustrated biographies of , , and , as well as the and the .
The Ippen biography, painted by a monk, remains remarkable for its influences, so far rare, from the Song dynasty
(via the wash technique
) and the Tang dynasty
(the style), as well as by its very precise representations of forts in many Japanese landscapes. As for the , it addresses the declining aristocracy in idealising the figure of the monk aesthete Saigyō
by the beauty of its landscapes and its calligraphic poetry.
Towards the middle of the Kamakura period, there was a revival of interest in the Heian court, which already appeared to be a peak of Japanese civilization, and its refined culture. Thus the ''Murasaki Shikibu Diary Emaki
'', which traces the life and intrigues of Murasaki Shikibu
, author of the (10th century) largely reflects the painting techniques of the time, notably the , but in a more decorative and extroverted style. Other works followed that trend, such as the ''The Tales of Ise
Emaki'', the or the .
Muromachi period: decline and
By the end of the Kamakura period, the art of was already losing its importance. Experts note that,, on the one hand, had become less inspired, marked by an extreme aesthetic mannerism (such as the exaggerated use of gold and silver powder) with a composition more technical than creative; the tendency to multiply the scenes in a fixed style can be seen in the (the longest known , with 48 scrolls, completed in 1307), the (1309) and the (16th century). On the other hand, the innovative and more spiritual influences of Chinese Song art
, deeply rooted in spirituality and Zen
Buddhism, initiated the dominant artistic movement of wash
(ink or monochromatic painting in water, or in Japanese) in the ensuing Muromachi period
, guided by such famous artists as Tenshō Shūbun
or Sesshū Tōyō
A professional current was nevertheless maintained by the Tosa school
: the only one still to claim the , it produced many to the order of the court or the temples (this school of painters led the imperial until the 18th century). Tosa Mitsunobu notably produced several works on the foundation of temples: the (1517), a scroll of the (1497), the (1487) or a version of the (1503); he paid great attention to details and colours, despite a common composition.
In a more general way, the illustration of novels in the classic style (such as the many versions of the or ) persisted during late medieval times.
If therefore ceased to be the dominant artistic media in Japan since the end of the Kamakura period, it is in the illustration movement of ( meaning "to tell stories") that developed a new popular vigour in the 15th and 16th centuries (the Muromachi period); the term (literally, the book of illustrations of Nara
) sometimes designated them in a controversial way (because they were anachronistic and combined books with scrolls), or more precisely as or .
These are small, symbolic and funny tales, intended to pass the time focusing on mythology, folklore, legends, religious beliefs or even contemporary society.
This particular form of dates back to Heian times, but it was under Muromachi that it gained real popularity.
The relative popularity of seems to have stemmed from a burgeoning lack of enthusiasm for hectic or religious stories; the people had become more responsive to themes of dreams, laughter and the supernatural (a number of depict all sorts of and folk creatures), as well as social caricatures and popular novels. Among the preserved examples are genre painting
s such as and , or supernatural Buddhist tales such as the or the .
[A Keiō University project led by Professor Toru Ishikawa has established an online database of many ]
see the index
/ref> From the point of view of art historians, the creativity of classical scrolls is felt even less in , because even though the composition is similar, the lack of harmony of colors and the overloaded appearance are detrimental; it seems that the production is often the work of amateurs. However, a field of study of and the pictorial style exists on the fringes and stands out from the framework of .
Various other artists, notably Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Yosa Buson, were still interested in the narrative scroll until around the 17th century. The Kanō school used narrative scrolls in the same way; Kanō Tan'yū realised several scrolls on the Tokugawa battles, particularly that of Sekigahara in his , where he was inspired in places by the (13th century).
Features and production of
Themes and genres
In essence, an is a narrative system (like a book) that requires the construction of a story, so the composition must be based on the transitions from scene to scene until the final denouement.
were initially strongly influenced by China, as were the Japanese arts of the time; the ' incorporates many of the naive, simple styles of the Tang dynasty, although dissonances can be discerned, especially in relation to colours.
From the Heian era onwards, came to be dissociated from China, mainly in their themes. Chinese scrolls were intended mainly to illustrate the transcendent principles of Buddhism and the serenity of the landscapes, suggesting the grandeur and the spirituality. The Japanese, on the other hand, had refocused their scrolls on everyday life and man, conveying drama, humour and feelings. Thus, began to be inspired by literature, poetry, nature and especially everyday life; in short, they formed an intimate art, sometimes in opposition to the search for Chinese spiritual greatness.
The first Japanese themes in the Heian period were very closely linked to literature and poetry: paintings of the seasons, the annual calendar of ceremonies, the countryside and finally the famous landscapes of the Japanese archipelago (). Subsequently, the Kamakura warriors and the new Pure Land Buddhist sects diversified the subjects even more widely. Despite the wide range of themes, specialists like to categorise them, both in substance and in form. An effective method of differentiating comes back to the study of the subjects by referring to the canons of the time. The categorisation proposed by Okudaira and Fukui thus distinguishes between secular and religious paintings:
*Court novels and diaries (, ) dealing with romantic tales, life at court or historical chronicles;
*Popular legends ();
*Military accounts ();
*Scrolls on poets;
*Reports on the rites and ceremonies celebrated in a very codified and rigid way throughout the year;
*Realistic paintings and portraits ();
*, traditional or fantastic tales popular in the 14th century.
*Illustrations of sutras or religious doctrines ();
Illustrated biography of a prominent Buddhist monk or priest (, or );
*Paintings of the antecedents of a temple ();
*The , a collection of Buddhist anecdotes.
A third category covers more heterogeneous works, mixing religion and narration or religion and popular humour.
The artists and their audience
The authors of are most often unknown nowadays and it remains risky to speculate as to the names of the "masters" of . Moreover, a scroll can be the fruit of collaboration by several artists; some techniques such as even naturally incline to such collaboration. Art historians are more interested in determining the social and artistic environment of painters: amateurs or professionals, at court or in temples, aristocrats or of modest birth.
In the first place, amateur painters, perhaps the initiators of the classical , are to be found at the emperor's court in Heian, among the aristocrats versed in the various arts. Period sources mention in particular painting competitions () where the nobles competed around a common theme from a poem, as described by Murasaki Shikibu in ''The Tale of Genji''. Their work seems to focus more on the illustration of novels () and diaries (), rather feminine literature of the court. Monks were also able to produce paintings without any patronage.
Secondly, in medieval Japan there were ; during the Kamakura period, professional production dominated greatly, and several categories of workshops were distinguished: those officially attached to the palace (), those attached to the great temples and shrines (), or finally those hosted by a few senior figures.
The study of certain colophons and period texts makes it possible to associate many with these professional workshops, and even sometimes to understand how they function.
When produced by the temple workshops, were intended mainly as proselytism, or to disseminate a doctrine, or even as an act of faith, because copying illustrated sutras must allow communion with the deities (a theory even accredits the idea that the would have aimed to pacify evil spirits). Proselytising, favoured by the emergence of the Pure Land Buddhist sects during the Kamakura era, changed the methods of production, because works of proselytism were intended to be copied and disseminated widely in many associated temples, explaining the large number of more or less similar copies on the lives of great monks and the founding of the important temples.
Various historians emphasise the use of in sessions of , during which a learned monk detailed the contents of the scrolls to a popular audience. Specialists thus explicate the unusually large dimensions of the different versions of the or the . As for the workshops of the court, they satisfied the orders of the palace, whether for the illustration of novels or historical chronicles, such as the . A form of exploitation of the story could also motivate the sponsor: for example, were produced for the Minamoto clan (winner of the Genpei War), and the was created to extol the deeds of a samurai in search of recognition from the shogun. These works were, it seems, intended to be read by nobles. Nevertheless, Seckel and Hasé assert that the separation between the secular and the religious remains unclear and undoubtedly does not correspond to an explicit practice: thus, the aristocrats regularly ordered to offer them to a temple, and the religious scrolls do not refrain from representing popular things. So, for example, the presents a rich overview of medieval civilization.
Colophons and comparative studies sometimes allow us to deduce the name of the artist of an : for example, the monk signed the , historians designate as the author of the and the , or for part of the . Nevertheless, the life of these artists remains poorly known, at most they seem to be of noble extraction. Such a background is particularly implied by the always very precise depictions in of the imperial palace (interior architecture, clothing and rituals) or official bodies (notably the ). The illustrates that point well, as the precision of both religious and aristocratic motifs suggests that the painter is close to those two worlds.
Perhaps a more famous artist is Fujiwara no Nobuzane, aristocrat of the Fujiwara clan and author of the , as well as various suites of realistic portraits (, a school he founded in honour of his father Fujiwara no Takanobu). Among the temple workshops, we know that the Kōzan-ji workshop was particularly prolific, under the leadership of the monk Myōe, a great scholar who brought in many works from Song dynasty China. Thus, the Jōnin brushstrokes on the or the portrait of Myōe reveal the first Song influences in Japanese painting. However, the crucial lack of information and documents on these rare known artists leads Japanese art historians rather to identify styles, workshops, and schools of production.
From the 14th century, the , and even for a time the of the shogun, were headed by the Tosa school, which, as mentioned above, continued painting and the manufacture of despite the decline of the genre. The Tosa school artists are much better known; Tosa Mitsunobu, for example, produced a large number of works commissioned by temples (including the ) or nobles (including the ). The competing Kanō school also offered a such few pieces, on command: art historians have shown strong similarities between the (12th century) and the (17th century) by Kanō Tan'yū of the Kanō school, probably to suggest a link between the Minamoto and Tokugawa clans, members of which were, respectively, the first and last shoguns who ruled all of Japan.
Materials and manufacture
The preferred support medium for is paper, and to a lesser extent silk; both originate from China, although Japanese paper () is generally of a more solid texture and less delicate than Chinese paper, as the fibres are longer). The paper is traditionally made with the help of women of the Japanese archipelago.
The most famous colors are taken from mineral pigments: for example azurite for blue, vermilion for red, realgar for yellow, malachite for green, amongst others. These thick pigments, named in Japanese, are not soluble in water and require a thick binder, generally an animal glue;
the amount of glue required depends on how finely the pigments have been ground.
As are intended to be rolled up, the colours must be applied to them in a thin, flat layer in order to avoid any cracking in the medium term, which limits the use of patterns (reliefs) predominant in Western painting. As for the ink, also invented in China around the 1st century CE, it results from a simple mixture of binder and wood smoke, the dosage of which depends on the manufacturer. Essential for calligraphy, it is also important in Asian pictorial arts where the line often takes precedence; Japanese artists apply it with a brush, varying the thickness of the line and the dilution of the ink to produce a colour from a dark black to a pale gray strongly absorbed by the paper.
Scrolls of paper or tissue remain relatively fragile, in particular after the application of paint. are therefore lined with one or more layers of strong paper, in a very similar way to (Japanese hanging scrolls): the painted paper or silk is stretched, glued onto the lining, and then dried and brushed, normally by a specialized craftsman, known as a (literally, 'master in sutra'). The long format of poses specific problems: generally, sheets of painted paper or silk long are lined separately, then assembled using strips of long-fibre Japanese paper, known for its strength. The lining process simply requires the application of an animal glue which, as it dries, also allows the painted paper or silk to be properly stretched. Assembly of the is finalised by the selection of the , which is quite thin, and the connection of the , which protects the work once it is rolled up with a ; for the most precious pieces painted with gold and silver powder, a further is often made of silk and decorated on the inside.
The currents and techniques of art are intimately linked and most often part of the , readily opposed at the beginning to Chinese-style paintings, known as . , a colorful and decorative everyday art, strongly typifies the output of the time. Initially, mainly designated works with Japanese themes, notably court life, ceremonies or archipelago landscapes, in opposition to the hitherto dominant Chinese scholarly themes, especially during the Nara period. The documents of the 9th century mention, for example, the paintings on sliding walls and screens of the then Imperial Palace, which illustrate poems. Subsequently, the term referred more generally to all of the Japanese style paintings created in the 9th century that expressed the sensitivity and character of the people of the archipelago, including those extending beyond the earlier themes. Miyeko Murase thus speaks of "the emergence of national taste".
Different currents of paintings are part of the according to the times (about the 10th and 14th centuries), and are found in . The style, composition and technique vary greatly, but it is possible to identify major principles. Thus, in relation to style, the Heian period produced a contrast between refined court painting and dynamic painting of subjects outside the court, while the Kamakura period saw a synthesis of the two approaches and the contribution of new realistic influences of the Chinese wash paintings of the Song dynasty. In relation to composition, the artists could alternate calligraphy and painting so as to illustrate only the most striking moments of the story, or else create long painted sections where several scenes blended together and flowed smoothly. Finally, in relation to technique, the classification of , although complex, allows us to identify two approaches: paintings favoring colour, and those favoring line for the purpose of dynamism.
The particular format of the , long strips of paintings without fixed limits, requires solving a number of compositional problems in order to maintain the ease and clarity of the narrative, and which have given rise to a coherent art form over several centuries. In summary, according to E. Saint-Marc: "We had to build a vocabulary, a syntax, solve a whole series of technical problems, invent a discipline that is both literary and plastic, an aesthetic mode which finds its conventions ..in turn invented and modelled, frozen by use, then remodelled, to make it an instrument of refined expression."
Styles and techniques
Overview of the Heian period styles
Specialists like to distinguish between two currents in the , and thus in the , of the Heian period, namely the ("painting of woman", meaning "woman"), and ("painting of man", meaning "man"). In the Heian period, these two currents of also echoed the mysteries and the seclusion of the Imperial Court: the style thus told what happened inside the court, and the style spoke of happenings in the populace outside.
fully transcribed the lyrical and refined aesthetic of the court, which was characterized by a certain restraint, introspection and the expression of feelings, bringing together above all works inspired by "romantic" literature such as the . The dominant impression of this genre is expressed in Japanese by the term , a kind of fleeting melancholy born from the feeling of the impermanence of things. These works mainly adopted the so-called (constructed painting) technique, with rich and opaque colours. In of the 13th century, in which the style was brought up-to-date, the same technique was used but in a sometimes less complete manner, the colours more directly expressing feelings and the artists using a more decorative aesthetic, such as with the very important use of gold dust in the ''Murasaki Shikibu Diary Emaki''.
A characteristic element of the resides in the drawing of the faces, very impersonal, that specialists often compare to noh masks. Indeed, according to the technique, two or three lines were enough to represent the eyes and the nose in a stylized way; E. Grilli notes the melancholy of this approach. The desired effect is still uncertain, but probably reflects the great restraint of feelings and personalities in the palace, or even allows readers to identify more easily with the characters. In some of the Heian period, the artists rather expressed the feelings or the passions in the positions as well as in the pleats and folds of the clothes, in harmony with the mood of the moment.
Genji emaki azumaya.jpg| painting, with vivid tones typical of primary
, 12th century
Murasaki Shikibu Diary Emakimono (Gotoh Museum) 4.jpg| painting in lighter tones
, 13th century
Ise monogatari emaki - Kubo 2.jpeg| painting
, 14th century
Genji emaki YADORIGI 2.JPG|Court scene illustrating , a technique of inexpressive and impersonal representation of faces
, 12th century
The current of the was freer and more lively than the , representing battles, historical chronicles, epics and religious legends by favouring long illustrations over calligraphy, as in the or the . The style was based on soft lines drawn freely by the artist in ink, unlike the constructed paintings, to favour the impression of movement. The colours generally appeared more muted and left the paper bare in places.
If the term is well attested in the texts of the time, and seems to come from the illustrations of novels by the ladies of the court from the 10th century, the origins of the are more obscure: they arise ''a priori'' from the interest of the nobles in Japanese provincial life from the 11th century, as well as from local folk legends; moreover, several very detailed scenes from the clearly show that its author can only have been a palace regular, aristocrat or monk. In any case, there are still several collections of these folk tales of the time, such as the .
Unlike the court paintings, the more spontaneous scrolls such as the or the display much more realism in the drawing of the characters, and depict, amongst other themes, humour and burlesque, with people's feelings (such as anger, joy and fear) expressed more spontaneously and directly.
Shigisan Engi Emaki - Women excitement.jpg|Popular scene in which the lines take precedence over very light colors
, 12th century
The Legendary Origins of Kokawadera 2.jpg|Another painting of a popular subject favouring the lines
, 12th century
Ban Dainagon Ekotoba - Crowd and a gate.jpg|Expressive painting of a communal crowd
, late 12th century
Yamai no Soshi - Eye Disease (part 1).jpeg|Humorous scene depicting a doctor's mistake
, 12th century
Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba 2.jpg|Battle scene depicting one of the Mongol invasions of Japan
, 13th century
Kamakura period realist painting
During the Kamakura period, the two currents of ( and ) mingled and gave birth to works that are both dynamic and vividly coloured, in the manner of the . Furthermore, the majority of also transcribed the realistic tendencies of the time, according to the tastes of the warriors in power. The thus shows in great detail the weapons, armour and uniforms of the soldiers, and the individually portrays the more than two hundred panicked figures who appear on the section depicting the fire at the door.
Realistic painting is best displayed in the portraits known as , a movement initiated by Fujiwara no Takanobu and his son Fujiwara no Nobuzane. These two artists and their descendants produced a number of emakimono of a particular genre: they were suites of portraits of famous people made in a rather similar style, with almost geometric simplicity of clothing, and extreme realism of the face. The essence of the was really to capture the intimate personality of the subject with great economy.
Among the most famous scrolls are the , composed of 131 portraits of emperors, governors, ministers and senior courtiers (by and , 14th century), and the by Nobuzane, whose ink painting () enhanced with very discreet colour illustrates perfectly the lines. Additionally, there is the , a work of a more idealized than realistic style, which forms a portrait gallery of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. More generally, humans are one of the elementary subjects of , and many works of the Kamakura period incorporate techniques, such as the or the .
Kitano Tenjin Engi Emaki - Jokyo - Son'i and Kamo River.jpg|Colours and dynamism
, 13th century
Ippen shonin eden I - mount Koya.jpg|Landscape of Mount Kōya, similar to the Chinese style
Heiji Monogatari Emaki - Warriors.jpg|Detail of painting of very realistic warriors in faces, weapons and armor
, 13th century
Taira no Kiyomori,TenshiSekkanMiei.jpg|Realist portrait, or , by Taira no Kiyomori
, 14th century
Saigu Nyogo.JPG| portrait of the poet Saigū Nyōgo
, 13th century
Chinese landscape and Song dynasty wash paintings
The style therefore characterised almost all , and Chinese painting no longer provided the themes and techniques. However, influences were still noticeable in certain works of the Kamakura period, in particular the art, so famous today, of the Song dynasty wash paintings, which was fully demonstrated in the grandiose and deep landscapes sketched in ink, by Ienaga. Borrowings also remained visible in religious scrolls such as the or the . This last work presents many landscapes typical of Japan according to a perspective and a rigorous realism, with a great economy of colors; various Song pictorial techniques are used to suggest depth, such as birds' flights disappearing on the horizon or the background gradually fading.
Ippen shonin eden X - Itsukushima.jpg|Sinistically composed landscape of the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima and the famous floating
Kiyomizudera engi emaki - Scroll1 Pic3.jpg|Steep mountain landscape and hermitage
Kegon Engi Emaki, declaration.jpg|Zenmyō, a young Chinese woman, confesses her love to the monk Gishō during his stay in China
, 13th century
The classic painting technique is called , used especially in most of the works of the style. A sketch of the outlines was first made in ink before applying the colours flat over the entire surface of the paper using vivid and opaque pigments. The outlines, partly masked by the paint, were finally revived in ink and the small details (such as the hair of the ladies) were enhanced. However, the first sketch was often modified, in particular when the mineral pigments were insoluble in water and therefore required the use of thick glue. Colour appears to be a very important element in Japanese painting, much more so than in China, because it gives meaning to the feelings expressed; in the , the dominant tone of each scene illustrating a key moment of the original novel reveals the deep feelings of the characters.
During the Kamakura period, the different stages of were still widely observed, despite variations (lighter colours, lines more similar to Song dynasty wash paintings, etc.).
Court style: ''onna-e'' above)">
Genji Emaki Yadorigi3.JPG|Emperor calls Kaoru to play Go
, 12th century
Ban Dainagon Ekotoba - Tomo no Yoshio house C.jpg|Wailing women at Tomo no Yoshio house
, 12th century
Murasaki Shikibu Diary Emakimono (Gotoh Museum) 6.jpg|Drunk and disorderly court nobles interacting with court ladies
, 13th century
Ise monogatari emaki - Kubo 1.png|Kubo version (using technique),
''The Tales of Ise Emaki'', 14th century
Ink line and monochrome painting
Even though coloured often occupy a preponderant place, one finds in contrast monochrome paintings in India ink ( or ), according to two approaches. First, ink lines can be extremely free, with the artist laying on paper unconstrained soft gestures that are especially dynamic, as it is mainly the sense of movement that emerges in these works. The painter also plays on the thickness of the brush to accentuate the dynamism, as well as on the dilution of the ink to exploit a wider palette of grey. Among such scrolls, the , formerly probably wrongly attributed to Toba Sōjō, remains the best known; E. Grilli describes the trait as a "continual outpouring".
The second approach to monochrome paintings is more constructed, with fine, regular strokes sketching a complete and coherent scene, very similar to the first sketch in the works before the application of the colours; according to some art historians, it is also possible that these are simply unfinished. The fits perfectly with this approach, accepting only a few fine touches of red, as do the and the . Several somewhat amateurish illustrations of classic novels remain from late medieval times and the decline of the .
By contrast with Western painting, lines and contours in ink play an essential role in , monochrome or not. Sometimes, however, contours are not drawn as usual: thus, in the , the absence of contours is used by the artist to evoke the Shinto spirit in Japanese landscapes. Originally from China, this pictorial technique is now called ('boneless painting').
Popular style: ''otoko-e'' above)">
Chouju swimming.jpg|Free ink painting
, 12th century
Shōgun-zuka emaki, detail A.jpg|Free ink painting
, 13th century
Pillow Book Illustrated2.JPG|Very constructed ink painting, similar to without colour; the line is fine and uniform
, 13th century
Habukyo Saigyo Monogatari Emaki - travel.jpg|Landscape in wash
Monochrome version of , 15th century
Hakubyo Genji monogatari emaki - scroll 1-18.jpg|Constructed ink painting
, monochrome version of ''The Tale of Genji'', 16th century
Spatial and temporal composition
Transitions between scenes
The juxtaposition of the text and the painting constitutes a key point of the narrative aspect of . Originally, in the illustrated sutras, the image was organized in a long, continuous frieze at the top of the scroll, above the texts. That approach, however, was quickly abandoned for a more open layout, of which there are three types:
*Alternation between texts and paintings (), the former endeavouring to transcribe the illustrations chosen by the artist. Court style paintings () often opted for this approach, as paintings more readily focused on important moments or conveyed a narrative.
*Intermittence, where the texts appeared only at the beginning or at the end of the scroll, giving pride of place to continuous illustrations ( or ). This type was often used in epic and historical chronicles; the best-known examples are the and the . Sometimes, the texts were even hosted by a separate handscroll.
*Paintings interspersed with text, ie the text was placed above the people who were speaking, as in the Buddhist accounts of the , the or the . Here we can see the beginnings of speech balloons in modern comics.
The balance between texts and images thus varied greatly from one work to another. The author had a broad "syntax of movement and time" which allowed him to adapt the form to the story and to the feelings conveyed. The scrolls with continuous illustrations () naturally made the transitions more ambiguous, because each reader can reveal a larger or smaller portion of the paintings, more or less quickly. In the absence of clear separation between scenes, the mode of reading must be suggested in the paintings in order to maintain a certain coherence.
Two kinds of links between scenes were used by the artists. First, there were links by separation using elements of the scenery (traditionally, river, countryside, mist, buildings) were very common. Secondly, the artists used a palette of transitional elements suggested by the figures or the arrangement of objects. Thus, it was not uncommon for characters to point the finger at the following painting or for them to be represented travelling to create the link between two cities, or for the buildings to be oriented to the left to suggest departure and to the right to suggest the arrival. More generally, E. Bauer identifies the notion of off-screen (the part of painting not yet visible) that the painter must bring without losing coherence.
E innga kyo.jpg|Painting in frieze above the text, a form of Chinese origin that was quickly abandoned
', 8th century
Obusuma Saburo emaki - part 13.jpg|Text before the painting
, 8th century
Kegon Gojūgo-sho Emaki (Todaiji).jpg|Text located in a box at the top of the scroll
, 12th century
Kegon Engi Emaki, King of the sea.jpg|Scene in which the characters' words are written directly in the painting, above them
, 13th century
Hell Scroll Nara.jpg|Alternation between text and painting – ''Hell Scroll'' of Nara National Museum, 12th century
Chouju 1st scroll-04.jpg|Succession of painted scenes without textual demarcation – , 12th century
Heiji Monogatari Emaki - Sanjo scroll complete.jpg|Succession of painted scenes, with only two sections of text at the beginning and at the end – , 13th century
Perspective and point of view
The space in the composition of an constitutes a second important instance of the narration over time. As the scroll is usually read from right to left and top to bottom, the authors mainly adopt plunging points of view (, 'bird's-eye perspective'). However, the low height of the forces the artist to set up tricks such as the use of long diagonal vanishing lines or sinuous curves suggesting depth. Indoors, it is the architectural elements (beams, partitions, doors) that are used to set up these diagonals; outdoors, the diagonals are set up by the roofs, walls, roads and rivers, arranged on several planes. In painting there is no real perspective in the Western sense - one that faithfully represents what the eye perceives - but, rather, a parallel or oblique projection.
The arrangement of the elements in an scene is based on the point of view, including the technique known as . As mentioned above, scenes are most commonly painted when viewed from above (bird's eye view) in order to maximize the space available for painting, despite the reduced height of the scrolls, while leaving part of the background visible.
[) |publisher=Perikan-sha |date=1998 |pages=186–194 |isbn=978-4-8315-0795-2 |language=ja]
In the interior scenes, the simplest technique was developed by from the Chinese Tang artists: only three walls of the room are drawn, in parallel perspective; the point of view is located in the place of the fourth wall, a little higher up. When the need to draw several planes - for example the back of the room or a door open to the next one - arose, the artists proceeded by reducing the size (of the scale). The more general scenes in which the story evolves, such as landscapes, can be rendered from a very distant point of view (as in the or the ). In the and the , the painter opted mainly for a side view, and the development of the story depends on a succession of communicating planes.
However, the Japanese artists imagined a new arrangement for which quickly became the norm for portraying interiors. It was called (literally, 'roof removed'), and involves not representing the roofs of buildings, and possibly the walls in the foreground if necessary, to enable a depiction of the interior. [ (résumé en français)] Unlike the previous arrangement, the point of view located outside the buildings, still high up, because the primary purpose of is to represent two separate narrative spaces - for example two adjoining rooms, or else inside and outside. The genesis of this technique is still little known (it already appears in the biography on wooden panel of Prince Shōtoku ), but it already appeared with great mastery on the Court style paintings () in the 12th century.
In the , the composition is closely linked to the text and indirectly suggests the mood of the scene. When Kaoru visits Ukifune, while their love is emerging, the artist shows the reader two narrative spaces thanks to the : on the veranda, Kaoru is calm, posed in a peaceful space; inside the building, by contrast, Ukifune and her ladies-in-waiting, are painted on a smaller surface, in turmoil, in a confused composition which reinforces their agitation. More generally, an unrealistic composition (for example from two points of view) makes it possible to suggest strong or sad feelings.
The technique was also used in a variety of other ways, for example with a very high point of view to reinforce the partitioning of spaces, even in a single room, or by giving the landscape a more important place. Ultimately, the primary goal remained to render two narrative stages, and therefore two distinct spaces, in the same painting. was therefore used extensively, sometimes even as a simple stylistic instance unrelated to feelings or text, unlike in the .
Finally, the scale of an also makes it possible to suggest depth and guide the arrangement of the elements. In Japanese painting, the scale depends not only on the depth of the scene, but also often on the importance of the elements in the composition or in the story, unlike the realistic renderings in Chinese landscape scrolls. Thus, the main character can be enlarged compared with the others, depending on what the artist wants to express: in the , Ippen is sometimes depicted in the background in a landscape the same size as trees or buildings, so that the reader can clearly identify it. Changes in scale can also convey the mood of the moment, such as the strength of will and distress of Sugawara no Michizane in the . For E. Saint-Marc, "each element takes ore generallythe importance it has in itself in the painter's mind", freeing itself from the rules of realistic composition.
Bishamonten messager.jpg|Long vanishing line guiding eye movement
, 12th century
Genji emaki TAKEKAWA Large.jpg|Scene in which depth is carried by parallel diagonals (here architecture), without perspective
, 12th century
Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect2.JPG|Example of a simple transition using a watercourse
', 8th century
Ban Dainagon Ekotoba - Wailing Women at Tomo no Yoshio house.png|Interior view, in which the roof is not shown ()
, 12th century
Taima mandala engi - weaving.png|Interior view of Taima-dera, where the spaces are set aside to show several stages of the story, thanks to the
, 13th century
Kitano Tenjin Engi Emaki - Jokyo - Michizane on top of a mountain.jpg|Scale variation, where the main character appears very tall compared with the mountain; opaque mists are also characteristic of Asian art
The narrative rhythm of arises mainly from the arrangement between texts and images, which constitutes an essential marker of the evolution of the story. In Court style paintings (), the artist could suggest calm and melancholy via successions of fixed and contemplative shots, as, for example, in the , in which the scenes seem to be out of time, punctuating moments of extreme sensibilities. By contrast, more dynamic stories play on the alternation between close-ups and wide panoramas, elisions, transitions and exaggeration. In such stories, the narrative rhythm is devoted entirely to the construction of the scroll leading to the dramatic or epic summit, with continuously painted scrolls allowing the action to be revealed as it goes by intensifying the rhythm, and therefore the suspense. The burning of Sanjō Palace in the illustrates this aspect well, as the artist, by using a very opaque red spreading over almost the entire height of the paper, depicts a gradual intensification of the bloody battles and the pursuit of Emperor Go-Shirakawa until the palace catches fire. Another famous fire, the Ōtenmon Incident in the , adopts the same approach, by portraying the movements of the crowd, more and more dense and disorderly, until the revelation of the drama.
Japanese artists also use other composition techniques to energize a story and set the rhythm: the same characters are represented in a series of varied sets (typically outdoors), a technique known as repetition (). In the , a composition centered on Kanazawa Castle gradually shows the capture of the castle by the troops of Minamoto no Yoshiie, creating a gradual and dramatic effect. In the , the tower to which Kibi no Makibi (or Kibi Daijin) is assigned is painted to depict each challenge won by the protagonist.
Another narrative technique characteristic of is called : it consists of representing the same character several times in a single scene, in order to suggest a sequence of actions (fights, discussions, trips) with great space savings. The movement of the eye is then most often circular, and the scenes portray different moments. can equally suggest either a long moment in one scene, such as the nun in the who remains in retreat in Tōdai-ji for several hours, or a series of brief but intense actions, such as the fights in the and the . In the , the artist offers a succession of almost "cinematographic" shots alternately showing the distress of Zenmyō, a young Chinese girl, and the boat carrying her beloved away on the horizon.
Hungry Ghosts Scroll Kyoto 5.jpg|Scene using the : the group of demons is first depicted burning below, then listening to the sermons of the historical Buddha in the middle, and finally drinking and reaching the heavens above
, 12th century
Magimi no maki (nun chapter).jpg|: the nun is depicted alternately praying and sleeping to suggest the length of her retreat
, 12th century
Ban Dainagon Ekotoba - Childrens fight D.jpg|: two children fight in the centre under the amused eyes of the crowd, then the father of one of them runs up to the left, and unceremoniously expels his son's rival
, 12th century
As noted in the history section above, the emergence of the syllabary contributed to the development of women's court literature and, by extension, the illustration of novels on scrolls. were therefore used on , although the Chinese characters remained very much also in use. In some particular scrolls, other alphabets can be found, notably Sanskrit on the .
In East Asia, calligraphy is a predominant art that aristocrats learn to master from childhood, and styles and arrangements of characters are widely codified, although varied. In the context of , calligraphic texts can have several purposes: to introduce the story, to describe the painted scenes, to convey religious teachings or to be presented in the form of poems ( poetry remains the most representative of ancient Japan). For the richly decorated Court-style paintings (), like the , the papers were carefully prepared and decorated with gold and silver dust.
The text of an had more than merely a function of decoration and narration; it could also influence the composition of the paintings. The have been widely studied on this point: art historians have shown a link between the feeling conveyed by a text and the dominant colour of the accompanying paint, a colour which is also used for the decorated paper.
In addition, the composition of the paintings may make it possible to understand them in accordance with the text: for example, the characters in the story may have been painted on a scene in a palace in the order of their appearance in the text. Other specialists in turn have insisted on the importance of the text in the positioning of the paintings, an important point in the Buddhist , in which the transmission of dogmas and religious teachings remained an essential goal of the artist.
A Japanese art
According to Peter C. Swann, the production of was Japan's first truly original artistic movement since the arrival of foreign influences. China's influence in and pictorial techniques remained tangible at the beginning, so much so that historians have worked to formalise what really constitutes art as Japanese art. In addition to the style, specialists often put forward several elements of answers: the very typical diagonal composition, the perspective depending on the subject, the process of , the sensitivity of colours (essential in ), the stereotypical faces of the characters (impersonal, realistic or caricatured), and finally the hazy atmosphere. K. Chino and K. Nishi also noted the technique of (literally, 'roof removed'), unprecedented in all Asian art.
E. St. Mark commented that some of these elements actually existed previously in Chinese painting, and that the originality of was in the overall approach and themes established by the Japanese artists.
The originality of art is also to be sought in its spirit, "the life of an era translated into formal language". The court style paintings () are part of the aesthetic of (literally 'the pathos of things'), a state of mind that is difficult to express, but which can be regarded as a penchant for sad beauty, the melancholy born of the feeling that everything beautiful is impermanent. D. and V. Elisseeff define this aspect of as the , the feeling of inadequacy, often materialized by a properly Japanese humour. But outside the court, the popular style (), the art of everyday life, come closer to the human and universal state of mind.
Depiction of everyday Japanese life
Sustained production of through the Heian, Kamakura and Muromachi periods (about 12th – 14th centuries) created an invaluable source of information on the then Japanese civilization. have been greatly studied in that respect by historians; no other form of Japanese art has been so intimately linked to the life and culture of the Japanese people.
A large project of the Kanagawa University made a very exhaustive study of the most interesting paintings across fifteen major categories of elements, including dwellings, elements of domestic life and elements of life outside the home, according to ages (children, workers, old people) and social class.
[The exhaustive list of the fifteen categories in Keizo Shibusawa's study is as follows:
# Inside the house, everyday items, tools;
# Work, trades;
# Appearance, action, work;
# Life, social status, illnesses;
# Death, burial;
# Entertainment, games, social relationships;
# Annual events;
# Gods, festivals, religion;
# Animals, vegetation, nature
See the introduction to the study for further details.] Although the main characters are most often nobles, famous monks or warriors, the presence of ordinary people is more or less tangible in an immense majority of works, allowing a study of a very wide variety of daily activities: peasants, craftsmen, merchants, beggars, women, old people and children can appear in turn. In the , the activity of women is particularly interesting, the artist showing them preparing meals, washing clothes or breastfeeding. The presents 142 artisans from the Muromachi period, ranging from a blacksmith to a maker.
The clothing of the characters in are typically true-to-life and accurately depict contemporary clothing and its relationship to the social categories of the time. In military-themed scrolls, the weapons and armour of the warriors are also depicted with accuracy; the , for instance, depicts many details, in particular the armour and harnesses of horses, whilst the depicts the fighting styles of the Japanese during the Mongol invasions of Japan, whose tactics were still dominated by the use of the bow. Finally, the offers a unique insight into certain details of the uniforms of police officers (known as ).
The aesthetics, alongside the rendering of people's emotions and expressions of feelings, also show a distinct cleavage between the common people and the aristocracy. For depicting commoners, emotions such as fear, anguish, excitement and joy are rendered directly and with clarity, whereas aristocratic instead emphasise refined, but less direct, themes such as classical romance, the holding of ceremonies, and nostalgia for the Heian period.
Historical, cultural and religious reflection
Depending on the subjects addressed, also form an important historiographical source of information about more than just everyday life, including historical events, culture and religion. Among these kinds of , the comes in the form of a calendar of several annual ceremonies and rites celebrated at court. By their symbolic importance and the complexity of their codes, these events, as well as some more popular festivals, absorbed much of the energy of the Heian period aristocracy. During the subsequent Kamakura period, the forty-eight scrolls of the formed an unpublished catalogue of the culture and the society of the time, while recounting, in a proselytising way, the establishment of the first Pure Land school in Japan.
The architecture of the places used as a setting for an can present a great level of visual detail in relation to period structures. The thus offers an insight into the architectural style, marked by a mixture of influence from Tang China and traditional Japan, such as bark roofs. More interesting still, the details a wide variety of buildings (temples, shrines, palaces, dwellings) taken from life with an unprecedented realism by the painter monk , so that the buildings preserved today are easily recognizable. can also include various elements of life in the city or in the country, such as the market in the shopping district of Osaka.
Another notable example, the gives a unique sketch of the great Buddha original of Tōdai-ji, which burned in 1180.
very often take historical or religious events as a source of inspiration: the narrative value of the story (the true story) informs contemporary historians as much about the story as about the way of perceiving this story at the time (there is sometimes a gap of several centuries between the time of the story and the time of the painter). Amongst the most interesting information in an may be details of the construction of ancient temples, of religious practices and finally of the unfolding of battles and major historical events, such as the Mongol invasions, the Genpei War or even the Ōtenmon political conspiracy.
Magimi no maki (nun chapter).jpg|upright=1.2|Large original Buddha of Tōdai-ji: this is the only iconographic document on this monumental work which was burned in 1180
, 12th century
Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Emaki (Fujita Art Museum) 2.jpg|upright=1.2|Entertainment of the aristocrats on the lake of the palace; the fat man on the veranda is none other than the mighty Fujiwara no Michinaga
'', 13th century
Heiji Monogatari Emaki - Sanjo scroll part 6.jpg|upright=1.2|War in all its brutality: armed samurai slaughtering the nobles amid the night attack on Sanjō Palace during the Heiji rebellion
, 13th century
Art historians, in their writings, have repeatedly emphasized the specific techniques of art through some characteristic scrolls, presented in this section.
The , dated approximately between the years 1120 and 1140, illustrate the famous ''Tale of Genji'' in the refined and intimate style of the court (), but only a few fragments of four scrolls remain today. The scene shown here depicts Prince Genji's final visit to his dying beloved, Lady Murasaki. In the composition, the diagonals reveal the emotion of the characters. First, Lady Murasaki appears at the top right, then the lines guide the eye to the prince in the lower centre, who appears to be crushed by sorrow. Then, the reading continues, and, at left, several months have passed, showing the garden of lovers devastated by time, echoing the loved one lost. The colors are darker than usual. In this scene, all of the classic pictorial elements of the of the genre are visible: the diagonals that guide the eye, the , the , and the colours affixed evenly over the entire surface, with the technique.
The provides a popular and humorous narrative of three episodes from the life of the Buddhist monk Myōren (founder of Chōgosonshi-ji), emphasizing the line and light colors of the . The most precise estimates place it between 1157 and 1180, and the quality of the descriptions of the temples and the palace suggests that the artist is familiar with both ecclesiastical and aristocratic circles. Myōren, who lived as a hermit in the mountains of Kyoto, used to send a magic bowl by air to the nearby village, in order to receive his offering of rice. One day, a rich merchant became tired of this ritual and locked the bowl in his attic. To punish him, Myōren blew up the whole granary containing the village harvest, as painted in the scene shown here; in that scene, known as the flying granary, the artist fully represents the popular feelings, fear and panic at seeing the harvest disappear. The movements of the crowd and the expressive, almost burlesque faces of the landscapes contrast with the tangible restraint in the . So, this fits into the genre, marked by dynamic ink lines, light colors revealing the paper, and themes of everyday life.
The recounts the historical events of the Heiji rebellion, an episode in the civil war between the Taira and Minamoto clans at the end of the Heian era. Of the numerous original scrolls, formed in the second half of the 13th century, probably over several decades, only three remain, together with various fragments. The first scroll, which depicts the Siege of Sanjō Palace, is one of the most renowned in the art of , due to its mastery of movement and setting up of the narrative to the climax: the fire, which spreads over almost the entire height of the scroll in the scene shown here. At the seat of the fire, extremely realistically represented soldiers, equipped with weapons and armor, fight violently, while the aristocrats who try to flee are savagely massacred (here, one is slaughtered by a shaggy soldier). The palace fire echoes that in another, older, scroll, the , which is renowned for its mix of colorful and refined scenes.
The twelve scrolls of the narrate the biography of the holy monk Ippen, founder of the school of Pure Land Buddhism. They were painted in 1299 by the monk-painter , disciple of Ippen, on silk, probably because of the importance of the character. Ippen, cantor of salvation for all souls and dancing prayers (), travelled throughout Japan to transmit his doctrine to men, peasants, townspeople and nobles. The is renowned for its many strong scenes of landscapes typical of Japan, so realistic that they can still be recognised perfectly today. The scene shown here, in which Ippen and his disciples arrive at Kyoto by the bridge over the Kamo River, illustrates the unique style, which draws its inspiration from both the classic realism of Kamakura art and the wash painting of the Song dynasty. The result, so admired by specialists, appears very close to deep and spiritual Chinese landscapes with rough ink strokes, while retaining a Japanese iconography through the freedom taken with perspective (the characters in particular are disproportionate) and the elements of daily life.
The , painted around 1218-1230, illustrates the legend of two Korean monks who founded the Kegon sect in their country in the 12th century. One of them, Gishō, made a pilgrimage to China in his youth to complete his Buddhist education. There, he met a young Chinese girl, Zenmyō, who fell in love with him. Alas, on the day he was due to depart, the latter arrived late at the port and, in despair, rushed into the water, swearing to protect her beloved forever. She then transformed into a dragon and became a protective deity of the Kegon school, according to legend. The well-known scene shown here, in which Zenmyō, transformed into a dragon, carries Gishō's ship on her back, features supple and fine lines as well as discreet colors that do not mask the brushstrokes; this style also seems inspired by the wash painting of the Song dynasty to which the very Japanese sensitivity for colors has been added. In fact, the sponsor of the roll, the monk Myōe of Kōzan-ji, appreciated the art of the Asian continent and brought to Japan several contemporary Chinese works, which probably inspired the artists of his painting workshop.
The original scrolls of the , reporting the facts about the life and death of , scholarly minister to the Emperor during his lifetime, and deified according to legend as a of studies and letters, demonstrate a sensitivity in mixing Buddhism and, above all, Shinto. The scrolls were actually intended for the Shinto shrine of Kitano Tenmangū in Kyoto; the last two of eight scrolls narrate the foundation and miracles. However, the thematic division of the work appears unfinished, the sketch of a ninth scroll having been brought to light. In the scene shown here, Michizane, unjustly condemned to exile, calls out to the gods in his misfortune. The composition of the painting testifies to a very Japanese sensitivity; Michizane is disproportionately depicted to underline his grandeur and determination in the face of dishonour, while the vividly colored and almost contourless () landscape is imbued with Shinto animism. The mists resembling long opaque ribbons are further features of , although also present in a different form in Chinese art.
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