001: The Arts of Japan: Ancient and Medieval (English and Japanese Edition)

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9780870113352: 001: The Arts of Japan: Ancient and Medieval (English and Japanese Edition)

Traces the development and characteristic styles of Japanese painting, sculpture, architecture, garden design, ceramics, textiles, swords, and decorative arts since the prehistoric Joman period

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About the Author:

Foremost among Japanese art historians of his day, the author, Seiroku Noma (1902-66), had keen insight into the arts of his country and wrote about them with unequaled sensitivity. Author of countless books and articles, Noma also served as curator at the former Imperial Art Museum and then at the Tokyo National Museum, retiring as chief curator in 1964. The translator--adaptors are highly regarded authorities in their fields. John Rosenfield, the translator of volume one, is the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Oriental Art at Harvard University, and Glenn Webb, who translated volume two, is Associate Professor of East Asian Art History at the University of Washington.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Opulent Splendor

Simplicity and naturalness formed one side of the aesthetic tastes of the Zen sect; this did not prevent it, however, from introducing art works of luxuriant splendor from China of the Sung and Ming periods. These included pictures done in the style of the official Sung Painting Academy--delicately detailed, brightly colored, and rather realistic. Along with these came celadon pottery, simple in form yet aristocratic in air; finely wrought carved-lacquer trays, boxes, and furniture; and brocade cloth of gold and silver. Such works, having reached an extraordinary degree of technical perfection in China, were as eagerly sought in Ashikaga Japan as similar treasures had been in the Nara period. Also, the bakufu in Kyoto, realizing that this commerce was immensely profitable for the Japanese, sought to replenish its treasury by entering directly into trade relations with Ming China. The Zen temples were one of its main modes of contact, particularly Tenryu-ji, for, after all, they had received the patronage of the Ashikaga shoguns. Zen monks were often versed in the Chinese language, many had studied on the mainland and had personal knowledge of political and commercial conditions there. In addition, they had good judgment regarding the cultural objects which the Chinese usually sent in return for such Japanese exports as swords and armor, lacquerware, horses, and raw materials like sulphur.

Silver and gold mines provided much of the wealth of the new Japanese leaders and were their insurance of continued success in costly military campaigns. While silver was plentiful (so much so that it was a major item of export), gold was scarce and had to be imported. The possession of objects made of gold was thus a sure sign of affluence and power. The military's weakness for gold was not without historical precedent (gold had been highly prized in ancient times and was used lavishly in the days of the Fujiwaras--that is, the tenth through twelfth centuries), but in the sixteenth century the public display of so much gold must have seemed at first nothing less than open sacrilege. For centuries the austere aesthetic of Zen Buddhism had eliminated any form of ostentation from Japanese life and art, and gold in particular was a despised substance. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu had been something of an innovator in the late fourteenth century with his Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku), but that was a special case--a private Buddha hall built in a secluded spot at the base of mountains and away from public view. Kinkaku was also considerably smaller than the great gilded buildings of the military era; since much less gold was being produced locally in Yoshimitsu's day, a larger gold covered chapel may have been prohibitive. Hideyoshi, on the other hand, took pains to see that ample gold was available, and he proceeded to put it on roof tiles, walls, ceilings, furniture, teabowls, serving ware, garments, armor--everything, in fact, that he wanted the world to recognize as his. It was a boastful display, to be sure, and vulgar by all traditional standards. It was also a new artistic venture in which the dazzling beauty of gold was shamelessly exploited and enjoyed for its own sake.

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Noma, Seiroky
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