Lingering Dreams: Japanese Painting of the Seventeenth Century

Pavilion for Japanese Art
August 3, 2013–January 1, 2014

Panoramic views of Kyoto, the Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years,  were first painted on folding screens in the 16th century.  Called rakuchū rakugaizu—literally “scenes in and around the capital”—these screens portray important identifiable sites such as Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and natural features such as Mt. Hiei and the Kamo River.

The power structure in Japan changed fundamentally during the 17th century, affecting the arts as well. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) established the Tokugawa period (1615–1868), an extended era of peace. As they recovered from a hundred years of war, Japan’s cities—Kyoto in particular—were rebuilt and paintings of their famous scenic spots and events began to proliferate. Support for the emperor during a period of political change; advances in printing, which allowed wider dissemination of classics of court literature from earlier centuries, and repair of court art collections after years of war all led to an era of neo-classicism, as painters re-explored themes from the courtly past. At the same time, the Kano school of painters, led by Kano Tan’yū (1602–1674) during much of the 17th century, established the official school of painting for the samurai class, using Chinese style and subject matter.

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Images: Pastimes and Pleasures in the Eastern Hills of Kyoto (detail), Japan, Genna era, 1615-1624, Six-panel folding screen; ink, color and gold on paper. Gift of the 2005 Collectors Committee, M.2005.29