10.3 Japanese Art

The Art of Japan
The Art of Japan
• Japan owed a debt of gratitude to China for
its initial artistic development.
• However Japan produced an abundance of
paintings, sculpture, and architecture that
was uniquely its own.
• The first traces of Japanese art date to a
culture known as the Jomon
(c. 12,000-300BC)
Early Development of
Japanese Art
• The earliest artworks
consist mainly of simple,
undecorated vessels,
figures, and animals
made of red clay.
• Many clay figures and
animals have been found
surrounding burial
mounds which suggest
they were put there to
ward off evil spirits and
protect the dead.
Introduction of Buddhism
• In A.D. 552, the ruler of a kingdom in
Korea sent a gilt bronze figure of the
Buddha to the emperor of Japan.
• Along with the sculpture came Buddhist
writings and missionaries. This is how
Buddhism was introduced to Japan.
• At first there was resistance to the new
religion, particularly among those that
remained faithful to Shinto, the indigenous
religion to Japan.
• Eventually Buddhism became firmly
established and came to affect every aspect
of Japanese culture.
Temple Construction
In the year 594, the empress Shiko ordered the Buddhist
temples be built throughout her kingdom.
Architects, wood-carvers, bronze workers, weavers and
other skilled artists came from Korea to build and
decorate the temples that soon filled the countryside.
Similar to temples in China but more richly decorated
and more delicately assembled.
Because Japan is formed of volcanic rock, there was little
hard stone suitable for building so they used wood.
Japanese builders made the practice of constructing
wooden buildings in to an art form. These buildings had
to be well designed to withstand frequent earthquakes
and violent storms that plague the island.
The Temple of Horyuji
Among the greatest architectural achievements in
Japan was the temple complex at Horyuji. The
temple was constructed on a square plan
surrounded by a double wall.
Inside the complex were a number of buildings:
the main hall containing sculpture of the Buddha,
a lecture hall, a library, and a bell tower.
In addition there were two pagodas. These
structures contain sacred relics. Pagoda – a tower
several stories high with roofs slightly curved
upward at the edges.
Amazingly one of the wooden pagodas has
survived countless earthquakes and has outlasted
most stone structure from that time.
Today it stands as the oldest wooden structure in
the world.
The Treasures of Todaiji
• Erected by the emperor Shomu in
• 4 years after the temple was
constructed the emperor died.
• Not long after his death, his
widow, the empress Komoyo,
presented the treasures of his court
to the great Buddha enshrined at
• As a result, no less than 10,000
works of eighteenth century
Japanese art was preserved.
Historical Buddha Preaching on Vulture Peak
Eighth Century AD
Artist Unknown
Ink, Color, and Gold on Hemp
• Among the artworks
preserved at Todaiji is a
painting on hemp regarded
as one of the temple’s
greatest treasures.
• It shows the Buddha
surrounded by
Bodhisattvas, preaching in
the mountains.
• Although
it has been retouched
this painting still testifies the
quality of eighth century
Buddhist paintings.
The Heian Period
• In 784, Heian was made capital city of Japan.
• The Heian Period is regarded as a golden age in
Japanese art.
• During the next 400 years numerous temples and
monasteries were built.
• In addition, members of the royal court and the
heads of great families commissioned painters to
create works of art.
The Yamato-e Style
• Contacts with China continued until
898 when ties were broken as a
consequence of internal strife in
• No longer able to draw inspiration
from China, Japanese artists developed
their own unique style of painting
called, Yamato-e.
• Yamato-e = painting in the Japanese
• Paintings done in this style were the
first true examples of Japanese art.
• Usually scenes of daily life
The Kamakura Period
• A series of civil wars prompted by corrupt governments
brought an end to the Heian Period in 1185.
• Clan leaders waged war with one another until one leader
Minamoto Yorimoto, was able to establish a military
government at Kamakura.
A succession of military rulers assumed control over various
parts of the country for the next 148 years.
• These rulers recognized the emperor as little more than a
powerless figurehead.
Giant Buddha
Kamakura, Japan
Bronze Sculpture
C. 1252AD
• A long tradition of creating colossal
sculptures continued during this period
with such works as the Giant Buddha.
• Cast in Bronze
• Example of exact symmetrical balance:
the two sides mirror each other.
• Today the sculpture sits outdoors
surrounded by grove of trees and
shows the Buddha in quiet
The Burning of the Sanjo Palace
Kamakura Period
Hand scroll
Ink and Colors on Paper
• Paintings is the most interesting visual art form of the Kamakura period.
• Advances made in the Yamato-e style reflected the artistic tastes of the
new military leaders, who preferred paintings that stressed realism and
• Nowhere is the realism and action more apparent than in the hand scroll
of The Burning Sanjo Palace.
The Burning of the Sanjo Palace
Kamakura Period
Hand scroll
Ink and Colors on Paper
• This scroll illustrates with shocking realism a revolt that took
place on the night of Dec. 9, 1159.
• On that tragic night, the Snajo Palace was attacked and the
emperor taken prisoner.
• Unrolling the scroll from right to left is immediately swept
up in the frantic scene.
• As the scroll is unrolled further, the viewer is led at less
frantic pace through swarms of soldiers, horses, and carts.
• Finally at the very end of the scroll-nearly 23 feet long, the
powerful narrative comes to a quiet end.
The Burning of the Sanjo Palace
Kamakura Period
Hand scroll
Ink and Colors on Paper
• Noblemen and their servants arrive at the palace after hearing of the
attack, but they are too late.
• The palace in engulfed in flame.
• Warriors surround the palace.
• Within the palace itself, the horrors of war are presented in graphic
and frightening detail: palace guards are beheaded, loyal attendants
are hunted down and killed, and ladies in waiting are trampled
beneath the hooves of horses.
• The view finds the final warrior taking control of his rearing horse.
• A single archer is the final, quiet figure signaling an end to this story
of frantic action.
The Rise of Zen Buddhism and the
Fall of the Kamakura Rulers
• During the Kamakura period, new Buddhist sects were
formed. One of these , the Zen sect, which was introduced
from China, had an important impact on later Japanese art.
• The power of the Kamakura military rulers ended in 1333.
• To their great shame, this loss did not come on the battlefield
but rather, like their predecessors, they too became corrupted
by power. Civil war again broke out continued until 1573.
• Somehow the arts managed to flourish during a period of
almost continuous unrest and conflict.
Zen Buddhism
• The growing appeal of Zen Buddhism resulted in the
popularity of art forms associated with that religion.
• Zen’s appeal may have been due to the fact that it offered
people an escape from the chaos that marked daily life.
• A desire to escape reality may have motivated artists as well.
• For example when the artist, Soami Kanguaku Shinso (sooah-mee kahn-gah-koo sheen-soh) took up ink and paper to
create a design for a screen, he choose as his subject a peaceful
Landscape of the Four Seasons: Fall and Winter
Soami Kanguaku Shinso
Six-Fold Screen
Ink on Paper
Landscape of the Four Seasons: Fall and Winter
Soami Kanguaku Shinso
Six-Fold Screen
Ink on Paper
• His finished paintings were mounted on two screens
illustrating the four seasons.
• Reading from right to left in the same manner as a hand
scroll, the paintings were intended to draw viewers gently
into an imaginary world of beauty and peace in which they
could forget the real world of unrest and fear.
• The same quest for beauty and peace was undertaken by
architects. The result can be seen in carefully proportioned
pavilions set in the midst of a splendid garden.
The Momoyama Period
• Marked by a succession of three
dictators, or shoguns, finally
restored unity and brought peace to
the troubled land.
• During this era, huge palaces were
built that served two purposes:
• Protective fortress
• Symbol of Power
• Inside these structures, sliding doors
and large screens were decorated
with gold leaf and delicate painting.
Hiroshima Palace
The Rich Era of Japanese Art
• In 1615 Iyeyasu Tokugawa overwhelmed the forces of rival military
leaders in a battle that left 40,000 dead.
• Victory enabled him to build a new capital at Edo (the modern day
Tokyo) and established the Edo rule, which continued until 1867.
• This period represented the longest period of peace and one of the
richest eras for art in Japan.
• Peace brought about a prosperous middle class.
• This new middle class demanded art works that showed the life of
the people rendered in new techniques.
• Demands such as these lead to the development of the
Ukiyo-e style, which means pictures of the passing world.
Woodblock Printing
• Since painting produced only one picture at a time, artists searched
for other ways to satisfy the increased demand for art.
• A solution was found in woodblock printing.
• Woodblock Printing – process involving transferring and cutting
pictures into wood blocks, inking the surface of the block, and then
• Using this process an artist could produce as many inexpensive
prints as needed.
• Prints originally were made with black ink on white paper. If color
was desired it was added by hand.
• Eventually a process for multicolored prints was developed.
Woodblock Prints
A Women Dancer
Torii Kiyonobu
A Women Admiring Plum Blossoms
Suzuki Harunobu
Woodblock Prints
The Great Wave
Katsushika Hokusai
Vocab and Quiz Review
• Woodblock Printing – process involving transferring and
cutting pictures into wood blocks, inking the surface of the
block, and then printing.
• Ukiyo-e style, which means pictures of the passing world
• Yamato-e = painting in the Japanese style
• Pagoda – a tower several stories high with roofs slightly
curved upward at the edges.

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