EXCEPTIONNAL PAIR OF SIX SHEETS SCREENS

 

Japan, Momoyama-Edo period, First half of 17th century

 

Provenance : Particular collection

 

Dimensions : Height : 173,5 cm (68516 in.) ; Width of one sheet : 64 cm (251364 in.)



Paintings presenting panoramic views of Kyoto and its suburbs are known as Scenes in and around the Capital (Rakuchū rakugaizu). Usually executed on folding screens, these encyclopedic visualizations include the famous scenic spots and important monuments that served as settings for seasonal festivals and other entertainments in Kyoto. They are also awash with depictions of townspeople— men and women from all walks of life—and their customs and costumes, mercantile and leisure activities, and modes of transportation.

This theme reached the height of its popularity in the first half of the seventeenth century. The majority of surviving Kyoto screens, like this pair, belong to a type in which the city is separated into east and west. On the right screen, the eastern half of the city and the summer Gion festival dominate the street activity, while the left screen shows Nijō Castle and the city’s western half.

 

Such screens, more than seventy of which are still extant, were much admired and in great demand in Kyoto. They were also popular with visitors from out of town, who purchased them as souvenirs of their trips to the capital. In 1582, when a group of Japanese Christian converts traveled to Rome, they took with them a set of rakuchū-rakugai zu by Kano Eitoku (1543– 1590) as a gift to the pope from the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534 –1582). One of the two earliest extant pairs was a gift from Nobunaga to Lord Uesugi, whose descendants are still in possession of the set.

The origin of rakuchū-rakugai imagery can be traced to an important genre of yamato-e, the distinctly native style of Japanese painting whose basic concept and techniques were perfected in the Late Heian and Kamakura periods.

Few examples of these early genre paintings remain, but there are literary and documentary references to two specific types of yamato-e: meisho-e, paintings that depict activities taking place in famous scenic spots around the country, and tsukinami-e, pictures of seasonal events.

Because most famous scenic locations came to be associated with special seasonal festivals, the two themes were often combined in a single work. Even during the Muromachi period, when the influence of Chinese culture was profound, interest in meisho-e and tsukinami-e persisted. Zen monks, the champions of Chinese learning and aesthetics, actually composed poems in praise of paintings that depicted these purely Japanese themes.

 

While no screen paintings of this subject have survived from the Muromachi period, many folding fans decorated with meisho-e and tsukinami-e are still extant. Their compositions, and the detailed manner in which they were rendered, eventually served as models for panoramic screen paintings. Rakuchū-rakugai zu thus represent a final synthesis of meisho-e and tsukinami-e.

The formula for such screens was established in the early sixteenth century. In 1506, Tosa Mitsunobu (fl. 1469–1523) painted a single screen showing only views of the inner city. This work was hailed as a novelty.

The more common format for rakuchū-rakugai zu, which includes the suburbs as well, was established shortly afterward. The oldest extant screens of this type are a pair dating to the 1520s formerly in the Machida collection and now in the National Museum of Japanese History, Sakura.

A pair in the Uesugi collection attributed to Kano Eitoku have been dated to between 1550 and 1570. While Tosa artists undoubtedly followed the example set in 1506 by their ancestor Mitsunobu, most of the later versions were produced by anonymous artists, generally known as machi-eshi (town painters). The screens are encyclopedic visualizations of Kyoto and the lives of its citizens.

Rakuchū rakugai zu also generated many types of smaller genre paintings, which flourished during the Edo period. The decline in popularity of rakuchū-rakugai screens in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century coincided with Kyoto's loss of prestige as the center of the nation's cultural, political, and commercial life.


The sixteenth-century screens in the National Museum of Japanese History and the Uesugi collection represent the first stage in the development of the rakuchū-rakugai genre. In both pairs, the city of Kyoto is divided into two sections. The left screen shows views of the uptown district, while the right one depicts the downtown section. To create for the viewer the impression of being in the midst of the city, the screens when unfolded for viewing were placed facing each other, flanking the viewer, rather than side by side.

The Burke screens and the majority of extant Kyoto screen paintings belong to a second type of rakuchū-rakugai screens. In these the city is separated into east and west, with Abura-kōji Street (running north and south, east of Nijō Castle) as the dividing line. On the right screen, Higashiyama (the eastern hills) is shown at the top and the Gion Festival dominates the street activity. On the left screen are Nijō Castle and the western half of the city, with Kitayama (the northern hills) and Nishiyama (the western hills) in the background.

Brilliant green hills and mountains, colorful houses, temples and shrines, palaces, streets, and human figures emerge from the golden clouds that partially envelop the capital. Avenues and houses are laid out in an orderly pattern.

Kamo River is running in part the right screen. Most of the major monuments on the screen at the right were constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598), who united the country after a lengthy period of civil strife among various feudal lords. In the top right is the Hōkoku mausoleum, built for Hideyoshi in 1599, is to the left; and directly below the mausoleum is the Great Buddha Hall of Hōkōji, dedicated by Hideyoshi in 1591. Just at the right is the Sanjūsangendō.

 

In front of Hōkōji stands an unusual monument, also related to Hideyoshi: an earthen mound surmounted by a stone stupa, this is the Mimizuka (Ear Burial Mound). This structure was built for the interment of the ears and noses of enemy soldiers, which were brought back to Japan from Korea by Hideyoshi's troops.

At the northern end (the viewer's left) is the Imperial Palace. In the center section, the mid-July Gion Festival, the most important summer event in Kyoto, is in progress. A major tourist attraction to this day, the festival originated in the mid-ninth century and has been observed annually since the year 970. Here, merchants and other citizens have deserted their shops and homes to watch the procession, with its colorful floats and theatrical performances, as it meanders through the streets and avenues.


At the top of the screen, pinkish white cherry blossoms dot the hilltops and valleys: spring is depicted in the suburbs, though a summer festival is in progress in the city proper. Major structures here include Kiyomizudera, a temple easily identified by its halls raised on stilts, the Yasaka Shrine with its beautiful pagoda, and Chion'in, another famous temple.

 

The left screen is dominated by the imposing structure of Nijō Castle, completed in 1603 to serve as the temporary residence of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (r. 1603–5).

The street in front of the castle is the site of some unusual security measures: roadblocks made of cloth curtains have been set up at intervals around the moat.

In front of the main gate are running three palanquins, certainly the procession of visiting members of the Tokugawa clan, on its way to the Imperial Palace.

Nijō Castle is depicted as it looked prior to the extensive renovation of 1626. (A good example of a post-1626 representation of the castle can be found on a screen in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.) Just Below is running the Horikawa River.

 Across from the castle, to the right, is the Kitano Shrine.


In the suburbs, beginning in the south (to the viewer's left) and moving northward, we come to the slender five-storied pagoda of Tōji, which marks the southern boundary of the city.

The group of farmhouse-like structures with thatched roofs immediately above may reflect the original appearance of the famous Katsura Villa, before it was rebuilt in the 1620s as the elegant estate that still stands today. The Ōi River is running at the top left.

Other famous monuments in the western hills include the temples of Tenryūji, Kinkakuji, and Daitokuji.

 


Our screens were probably painted in a shop that produced ready-made pictures. Stylistically, several landscape details suggest that the artist may have been trained in the Kano school. Prominent shun (wrinkles), for example, were used to delineate the surface texture of rocks, and strong ink outlines form sharp angles to give the impression of roughness.