Critical Perspectives on Classicism in Japanese Painting, 1600 - 1700
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In the West, classical art - inextricably linked to concerns of a ruling or dominant class - commonly refers to art with traditional themes and styles that resurrect a past golden era. Although art of the early Edo period (1600-1868) encompasses a spectrum of themes and styles, references to the past are so common that many Japanese art historians have variously described this period as a "classical revival," "era of classicism," or a "renaissance." How did seventeenth-century artists and patrons imagine the past? Why did they so often select styles and themes from the court culture of the Heian period (794-1185)? Were references to the past something new, or were artists and patrons in previous periods equally interested in manners that came to be seen as classical? How did classical manners relate to other styles and themes found in Edo art? In considering such questions, the contributors to this volume hold that classicism has been an amorphous, changing concept in Japan - just as in the West. Troublesome in its ambiguity and implications, it cannot be separated from the political and ideological interests of those who have employed it over the years. The modern writers who first identified Edo art as classical followed Western notions of canonicity and cultural authority, contributing to the invention of a timeless, unchanging notion of Japanese culture that had direct ties to the emergence of a modern national identity. The authors of the essays collected here are by no means unanimous in their assessment of the use of the label "classicism." Several reject it, arguing that it distorts our perception of the ways early Edo artists and audiences viewed art. Still others are comfortable with the term broadly defined as "uses of" or "the authority of various pasts." Although they may not agree on a definition of classicism and its applicability to seventeenth-century Japanese art, all recognize the relevance of recent scholarly currents that call into question methods that privilege Western culture. Their various approaches - from stylistic analysis and theoretical conceptualization to assessment of related political and literary trends - greatly increase our understanding of the art of the period and its function in society.
Biographies of Eminent Women. Under chapter headings borrowed from its Chinese prototype, the Mirror of Japanese Women offered Japanese readers eighty-one biographies of famous Japanese women.25 Among them were many women like Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Sh≤nagon (ca. 966 – 1017), who were remembered for their ability as poets/writers steeped in the traditions of Japanese literature. The illustrations emphasize the women’s literary reputations over other virtues. Murasaki Shikibu is shown writing in
placed here and there between them. By contrast, Mitsuoki typically focuses on two or three characters who are absorbed in an activity, more often than not the writing of a poem (Plate 7). The fact that Mitsuoki strips down the iconography inherited from Mitsunori, eliminating nonessential elements, may relate to the changing role of Genji-e—for example, the desire to link a picture explicitly to a particular poem. Role Models in Genji There is one further way in which the discourse on women’s
and receive her blessing.”45 Leaving aside the question of who is best served by the circulation of such role models, it is clear that the Mirror of Japan’s Virtuous Women offers Murasaki as a woman worthy of admiration. The purpose of the anecdote is to inform readers of the subject’s virtues and encourage women to emulate her behavior. The illustration accompanying the passage provides a complementary L a u r a W. A l l e n visual model (Figure 4.10). It shows Murasaki, occupying herself
however, that this was the sort of historicism we are familiar with today. As visual and textual sources from seventeenth-century Japan demonstrate, many people knew something of the past, whether of heroic personalities or intriguing events. Yet even individuals steeped in learning did not conceive of the past in terms of detailed, linear chronologies or coherent periods as do modern academic historians. Herbert Plutschow explains that the notion of time in premodern Japan depended on
ﬁg. 13. 53. Reproduced in Wheelwright, Word in Flower, ﬁg. 16. Of some interest here is the identity of the various calligraphers (Appendix III): one—Shige’eda—had participated, apparently belatedly, in the Date album set as well and fully six of the other participants in the S≤ken screen were relatives of calligraphers for the Date album set. 54. Contained in Sasaki Nobutsuna, ed., Nihon kagaku taikei (Tokyo: Kazama Shob≤, 1962), 4:362–379. 55. The work is signed at the end “Tosa Ukon no J≤gen