Japanese Painting and Printmaking

Late Heian – Edo Period

Japanese History and Culture

8000 BCE – 898 CE

Jomon Period
8000 BCE – 250 BCE

Settlers in the Japanese island archipelago develop unique culture

660 BCE: Legendary First Emperor ascended the throne

Yayoi Period
250 BCE – 300 CE

Bronze age culture

Contact with Korea and China

Influence from Zhou dynasty bronze age culture through Korea

Kofun Period
300 – 552 CE

Large tomb mounds surrounded by clay haniwa (cylinder) figures

Adoption of Chinese script and philosophy

Architecture: Shinto shrines

Shinto ("Way of the Kami")

Kami: multitudinous supernatural beings

Asuka Period
552 - 645

552: Buddhism introduced by a Korean king

Growth of Buddhism and Chinese learning

Large-scale Korean and Chinese immigration

Influence of Six Dynasties (China) styles through Korean art (Three Kingdoms Period)

Nara Period
645 - 794

Direct relations with Tang dynasty China

Influence of Tang naturalism

Pure Land sect of Buddhism becomes popular

Early Heian (Jogan) Period
794 - 898

Esoteric (Vajrayana) sects of Buddhism become popular

Mandalas and sculptured images of complex deities

Influence of China begins to wane

894: Official missions to China cease

Late Heian (Fujiwara) Period
898 - 1185

Growth of national culture freed to some extent from Chinese influence

Rise of lavish secular art and literature centered in the imperial court

(Influences Buddhist art)

Late Heian (Fujiwara) Period

898 - 1185

What is Yamato-e?

Yamato-e: Japanese-style painting

Yamato: Japan

E: picture

Paintings (often narrative scrolls) that depict Japanese subjects and scenes

Distinctive compositions


High vantage point (bird’s-eye view)

Prominent diagonals

Divided by art historians into two styles:




Onna-e: (literally) women’s painting

Onna: woman

E: picture

Note: Does not indicate the gender of the artist

Illustrations of courtly works, such as romances and diaries

Quiet, static indoor scenes painted in a sumptuous manner with rich colors


Otoko-e: (literally) men’s painting

Otoko: man

E: picture

Note: Does not indicate the gender of the artist

Illustration of historical events and legends

Lively, sketchy style; action-packed; light colors

Tale of Genji, 12th c.

Tale of Genji

Author: Lady Murasaki (imperial court lady)

First novel ever written

Novel of manners; detailed exploration of human relationships

Tale of Genji

Yamato-e/Onna-e style

Legend of the Shigisan Temple, 12th c.

Shigisan-engi (Legend of the Shigisan Temple)

Legend of the founding and history of the Shigisan Buddhist temple

Action-adventure story; dramatic plot twists

Legend of the Shigisan Temple

Yamato-e/Otoko-e style

Kamakura Period

1185 - 1333


1185: Minamoto no Yoritomo led his clan to victory over the Taira clan and became shogun (military ruler); headquarters in Kamakura

Rise of the military class

Political and cultural dominance of the emperor and his court give way to rule by samurai (warriors) under the leadership of the shogun

Emperor becomes merely a figurehead, with no ruling power

Restoration of the great Nara period temples in Nara

Inspired by the Nara period style, artists developed a vivid, lifelike, energetic realism

Burning of the Sanjo Palace, 13th c.

Illustrated Tale of Events of the Heiji Era (Heiji Monogatari Ekotoba)

Tale of the Heiji wars at the end of the Heian period that catapulted Minamoto no Yoritomo to power

Burning of the Sanjo Palace

Subject: military history

Style: Yamato-e/otoko-e

Muromachi (Ashikaga) Period

1392 - 1573


During much of the Muromachi period, Japan was racked by a series of civil wars

1338: Ashikaga family gained control of the shogunate, and moved headquarters to the Muromachi district in Kyoto

1392: Japan reunited under Ashikaga rule

Zen Buddhism introduced to Japan from China in the late 12th century

Embraced by the military class (samurai)

Emphasis on discipline and self-development

Sumi-e (Chinese-style monochrome ink painting introduced)

Zen temples were intermediaries in the government’s extensive trade with China

Monks traveled to China and were fluent in Chinese (in order to study Zen learning)

Zen temples were also centers of culture

Monks practiced calligraphy and painting, and were oriented toward China; they gave away their works

By the 16th century, paintings by Zen monks were in such demand that temples formed ateliers staffed by monks, some of whom "turned professional"

Ama no Hashidate, ca. 1500

Artist: Sesshu (1420-1506), most famous artist of the Muromachi period; remained a Zen monk all his life

1467: Traveled to China, visiting Zen monasteries, and viewing paintings (primarily works by Ming dynasty professional painters)

Later, he claimed that he was influenced by the mountains and rivers he saw, and learned nothing from Chinese artists

Ama no Hashidate, ca. 1500

Subject: Ama no Hashidate, Kyoto prefecture, one of the "Three Famous Views" of Japan

Topographical landscape: accurately depicts an actual scene

Ama no Hashidate, ca. 1500

Influence of Chinese culture and art:

Subject: landscape

Brushwork: Tonal contrasts, use of washes (Ming professional painters)

Japanese aesthetic:



Hatsuboku (Splashed Ink)

Humor in Japanese Art

Decorative Painted Screens Momoyama Period

1573 - 1615


In 1542, toward the end of the Muromachi period, Portuguese traders introduced firearms to Japan

As the Muromachi period drew to a close, three leaders emerged:

Oda Nobunaga (1534-82): ruthless warrior, patron of the arts; welcomed foreign traders

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/37-98): gained complete power; invaded Korea and China; considered patronage of culture vital to his rule

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616): established a stable government in 1603

Momoyama period, though short, became one of the most creative eras in Japanese history

Architecture: Himeji Castle

Firearms changed the nature of warfare and influenced art

In response to new weapons, monumental fortified castles built, and sumptuously decorated


Kano Eitoku (1543-90), Pines and Cranes and Plum Tree, Daitokuji Temple, Kyoto

Kano family artists and others transformed Chinese-derived ink painting techniques into a decorative style

Castles and other large interiors built through government patronage offered artists opportunity to work on a grand scale

Fusuma: paper-covered sliding doors with large murals

New Subject:
The Portuguese (Namban)

Bridge at Uji, ca. 1600

Pair of folding screens, monumental size, painted for a large interior space

Subject: bridge at which a famous battle occurred

Bold sense of scale

Powerful brushwork influenced by Muromachi period (Chinese-derived) styles

Reintroduces elements of Yamato-e

Painting and Woodblock Prints
Edo (Tokugawa) Period

1615 - 1868


1603: Tokugawa Ieyasu proclaimed himself shogun in the new capital of Edo (Tokyo)

Established 250 years of peace and prosperity

Government exerted increasing control

Travel restricted

A form of Chinese Neo-Confucianism was promoted that emphasized loyalty to the state

Confucianism became the prevailing intellectual force, in place of Zen Buddhism

Japan closed off from the rest of the world; foreigners not permitted in Japan, except for small Chinese and Dutch trading communities on an island off the port of Nagasaki

Rise of urban middle class; increase in general wealth of increasingly mercantile society

Widespread literacy

Pluralistic cultural atmosphere: art patronage widespread; diverse styles developed in response

Edo Period Styles and Patronage

Rimpa School

Patrons: shogun, emperor and courtiers


Patrons: educated elite, samurai, merchants


Patrons: wealthy merchants, samurai, artisans, tradespeople

Maruyama-Shijo (Naturalistic) School

Patrons: wealthy merchants, educated elite, samurai


Patrons: sought patronage of ordinary people (farmers, artisans, tradespeople)


Patrons: wealthy merchants, educated elite, samurai

Rimpa School
Irises, 18th c.

Ogata Korin (1658-1716): famous master in the Rimpa "School", artists who mostly lived and worked in an artist colony set up near Kyoto

Rimpa artists

Often collaborated on commissions

Excelled in decorative designs

Often worked in several mediums

Rimpa School
Irises, 18th c.

Subject: refers to the Tale of Ise, a 10th c. classic

A nobleman poet, having left his wife at the capital, pauses at a place called Eight Bridges, where irises are in full bloom

Inspired, he writes a 5-line poem, beginning each line with a syllable from the word ka.ki.tsu.ba.ta (iris)

Rimpa School
Irises, 18th c.


When I remember

My wife, fond and familiar

As my courtly robe

I feel how far and distant

My travels have taken me.

Rimpa School
Irises, 18th c.

Rimpa Style

Literary and pictorial themes

Dramatic, decorative flavor

Nanga School
Fishing in Springtime, 18th c.

Ike no Taiga (1723-1776): one of the most famous Nanga artists

Nanga School: not a formal school

Individual painters who were educated in the Confucian tradition, interested in Chinese culture

Created their own variations of literati painting through unique blending of Chinese models, Japanese aesthetics, and personal brushwork

Education consisted of combinations of:

Studies with Chinese painters who came to Japan; Chinese woodblock painting manuals; actual Chinese paintings

Nanga School
Fishing in Springtime, 18th c.

Subject: landscape

Seems modeled after Chinese compositions, but farmland lends genre quality rarely seen in Chinese landscape painting

Brushwork: "vocabulary" is Chinese; "language" is Japanese

"Pictures of the Floating World"

Buddhism preached that pleasures were fleeting (ukiyo: floating world)

Cherry tree became symbol for transience of earthly beauty and joy

Commoners in the Edo period took a different attitude: "Let’s enjoy it while it lasts"

Ukiyo became positive rather than negative

Ukiyo Culture
The Pleasure Quarters of Edo

Ukiyo Culture
The New Heroes of Edo:
Kabuki Actors and Geisha

Ukiyo Culture
New Subjects

Woodblock Printmaking


Block carver (many blocks for a single multi-color print design)



Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa, ca. 1800

Hokusai (1760-1849): one of two great masters of landscape prints

Became one of the most successful series of graphic art in the world

Hokusai’s Influences:
Western Art

Hokusai’s Influences:
Japanese Decorative Styles