A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Folding Screen Depicting Notable Sights in Kyoto

Folding screens of the capital and its environs, which depict famous places in and around the capital in a panoramic view on a pair of folding screens, appeared in the late Muromachi period. The first of these works is estimated to be a work that appears in the manuscript "Sanetaka Koki" written in Eisho 3 (1506), "A Pair of Screens of the Capital" painted by Tosa Mitsunobu for the Asakura clan of Echizen that had the role of official painter at the Imperial Court. From the later middles ages to the beginning of the eary modern age, folding screens of the capital and its environs were not pictures of famous places or genre pictures that simply showed views of the capital and the daily lives of certain classes. They were mirrors that reflected the political situation encompassing the capital, with the estates of powerful figures of the times drawn oversized. It seems these works were also used for political purposes, as can be seen from the order for the screens by the Asakura clan of Echizen in "Sanetaka Koki". Later in the Edo Period, when the Nijo Castle of the Tokugawa clan was constructed in the capital, these screens became standardized in their depictions with Nijo Castle shown on the left panel, and on the right panel Hokoji Daibutsu-den, which is connected to the Toyotomi clan, and the Imperial Palace drawn as central figures.

Folding screens of the capital and its environs also gradually changed with the trend toward standardized depictions and large-scale production. In the second volume of Ihara Saikaku's "Nippon Eitaigura", published in Jokyo 5 (1688), we can see only that folding screens depicting the capital and its environs had become a standard item included in the items brought to her new home by a bride of the affluent merchant class.

There was debate as to whether or not to give brides screens of the capital because it was feared the women would make merry and go on pleasure trips, neglecting their housework. Thus it came about that these folding screens of the capital and its environs changed into folding screens depicting famous sights in Kyoto. Extant works substantiate this change. For example, the Rekihaku E Version in the main collection that is estimated to be from the early eighteenth century shows the Imperial Court, Nijo Castle, and merchant homes in extremely shrunken proportions, and shrines and temples popular with worshippers and pleasure spots outside the city have captured sole attention.

Right panel
The Kamo River and Sanjo Ohashi Bridge are located in the lower left part of the panel. A bird's-eye view of spring scenery of the Higashiyama Mountain Range. The Gion Shrine is drawn largely slightly to the right of center. The structures of Kiyomizu Temple, Chion-in Temple, Yoshida Shrine, and other sites are also visible.

In the late Edo Period, this "Folding Screen Depicting Notable Sights in Kyoto" painted by Matsukawa Ryuchin (dates of birth and death unknown) also shows scenes of Kyoto on a pair of screens. In a broad context this work can also be called a folding screen of the capital and its environs. It appears that Ryuchin, a painter who identified with the Maruyama and Shijo school styles, was one of the popular painters of his day, as can be seen from the inclusion of his name in the "Heian jinbutsu-shi" that were published in Bunsei 5 and 13 (1822 and 1830). His talent as a painter can be seen in the precision with which he painted temple and shrine buildings and detailed pictures of pilgrims and in the wonderfully bold expressiveness of distant mountains. His vividness and lucid use of color share something with the modern painters of Kyoto.

What is even more significant than the quality of his depictions is the way in which the landscape is portrayed on these screens. Facing the screens, you see on the right panel are the Kamo River and the eastern part of Kyoto city. On the left screen is the western part of the city, including Arashiyama. This follows the format that was established in the early Edo Period. However, the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle, which were indispensable as compositional elements following standardization, are nowhere to be seen. Depictions of merchant houses that were another characteristic of folding screens of the capital and its environs have also become rare by this time. Instead famous shrines and temples were painted in large proportion and the area of the work devoted to the portrayal of the famously picturesque Arashiyama area is exceptionally large. On the right panel, the position of the Kamo River has been lowered considerably compared to its positioning in traditional folding screens of the capital in order to include the mountains of the Higashiyama range which housed many popular shrines and temples. The depictions of the grounds of individual shrines and temples display great pictorial precision resembling the illustrations in Meisho-zue (illustrated guidebook of famous sights). In an age when pilgrimages to shrines and temples were pleasure trips, it can be said that folding screens represent the final destination in the change from depictions of the capital and its environs to depictions of famous places in Kyoto.

Left panel
The left panel shows the northwestern area of the capital. The season is autumn. In the lower right is the Kitano Tenjin Shrine. The tower visible to its left is Nin'naji. In the upper left section, Oi River and Arashiyama are noticeably enlarged.

Junichi Okubo(Museum Science Department)