Japanese Painting Circa 1500: A Time of Upheaval and Innovation

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Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L140
@ 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Japanese Painting Circa 1500: A Time of Upheaval and Innovation

Friday, April 12th, 2024 | 9:00AM–4:00PM CT
Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, Room L140 (lower-level) | In-person
Livestreamed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RWtzX7pBeQ

Please join the Department of Art History for a symposium on Japanese Art History, Japanese Painting Circa 1500: A Time of Upheaval and Innovation, which will take place on Friday, April 12th, 2024.

Participants: Shimao Arata (Gakushūin University), Steffani Bennett (UW–Madison), Yukio Lippit (Harvard University), Melissa McCormick (Harvard University), and Gene Phillips (UW–Madison).


9:00–9:10 AM
Opening Remarks by Professor Emeritus Gene Phillips and Professor Steffani Bennett

Morning Presentations
9:10–10:10 AM
Shimao Arata (Gakushūin University), “A Time of Transition in Muromachi Ink Painting”
The issues inherent in the history of Japanese ink painting circa 1500 are made distinctly manifest in the arena of connoisseurship. When examining paintings, we often find ourselves assuming that works are the product of the sixteenth century based upon formal evidence but without consideration of where they were produced. This tendency has rarely been explicitly addressed as an issue in the study of late medieval ink painting. In this presentation, I demonstrate the formal transformations that occur in ink painting over the course of approximately three decades starting with the outbreak of the Ōnin War in the late 1460s. I consider the nature of these formal transformations apart from the intellectual environment of late medieval Zen and rather explore how these changes occurred as a result of the tendency for painters and patrons to focus upon the distinctly visual elements of painting. In so doing, I provide a model for conceiving of a more granular periodization scheme that better captures the evolution of ink painting in the era spanning the late Muromachi (1338–1573) and Momoyama (1573–1615) periods.

10:10–11:10 AM
Yukio Lippit (Harvard University), “Revisiting Sesshū’s Huike Offering his Arm to Bodhidharma (1496)”
Sesshū’s Huike Offering his Arm to Bodhidharma (1496) is as famous as can be, and has come to serve as a poster child for a Zen practitioner’s commitment to spiritual training. Despite the painting’s renown and prodigious commentary, however, this presentation begins with the assumption that further opportunities remain to explore what the work means and how it came about. It pursues these questions under three primary rubrics: 1) the ritual context, in particular the Bodhidharma Assembly (Daruma-e); 2) the iconographic tradition of Huike’s arm as reflected in Chan/Zen patriarch scrolls; and 3) the meaning of incorporating an image of Huike’s arm into a large ritual icon as in Sesshū’s scroll. In particular, this presentation questions the traditional assumption that the scene is meant to convey Huike’s perseverance in seeking spiritual guidance from Bodhidharma.

11:10 AM–12:10 PM
Steffani Bennett (University of Wisconsin–Madison), “The Grotto Heaven in Late Fifteenth-century Japanese Landscape Painting”
The fifteenth century marks a consequential turning point in the history of Japanese landscape painting. Existing discussions of this history have tended to focus on stylistic evolution or on the relationship between landscape images and accompanying text in the form of poetic inscriptions. In this presentation, I take a different approach by exploring the ways in which landscape imagery signifies independently of text and how the painted landscape creates meaning through its visual forms. In the wake of Ōnin War (1467–1477), Japanese landscapes begin to feature a new pictorial motif—the cave. I argue that rather than merely reflecting new sources of visual material, the appearance of the cave motif in the years surrounding 1500 is indicative of a new semantic valence for the landscape, one inflected by Daoist notions of immortality, utopian paradises, and sequestered sage teachings. Through the excavation of these conceptual currents in visual culture, one is, in turn, offered a completer and more nuanced picture of late medieval Japan in its tumultuous transition into early modernity.

Lunch Break
12:10–1:20 PM

Afternoon Presentations
1:20–2:20 PM
Melissa McCormick (Harvard University), “‘Rulers of the Inner Realm’: Gendered Authority in the Cultural Sphere of the Asakura House and the Yamato Imaginary”
Despite the widespread perception of women’s exclusion from many spheres of cultural production in the late medieval period, enough historical evidence remains to integrate their activities more fully and regularly into art historical accounts. This paper will demonstrate, for example, how the women of the Asakura daimyō family bolstered the political standing of their house and domain through acts of patronage. I will focus on early sixteenth-century paintings by Tosa Mitsunobu, including a recently discovered Genji Genealogy (1511), to explore issues of gender and lineage, and to argue for the importance of recovering medieval matrilines. The aim is not to glorify women’s history, or to downplay the constraints of patriarchy, but to consider the role of female patrons within the societal frameworks of gender operative at the time. Building on these ideas, the talk concludes with thoughts on the role of gendered representation in shaping the late medieval idea of “yamato,” or the “Japan” (yamato/wa) half of the cultural binary with “China” (kara/kan) and its implications for art historical discourse.

2:20–3:20 PM
Gene Phillips (University of Wisconsin–Madison), “Approaching Kano Motonobu’s Illustrated Legends of the Kurama Temple
The first known work in the narrative handscroll format by Kano Motonobu (1476–1559) is Anbagaiji Engi Emaki, also known as Kuramadera engi emaki, dedicated in 1513. It survives today only in incomplete copies, but the one in the Mōri Collection of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Archives is largely complete. Since the Mōri copy dates to about two and a half to three centuries after the original, one might dismiss it out of hand as a pale reflection of Motonobu’s work. However, close study makes it possible to situate the copy comfortably within Motonobu’s oeuvre and allows us to treat it as a document of at least tentative reliability that sharpens our understanding of his development as a handscroll artist. In relating it to Motonobu’s extant works, aspects of composition such as the overall structure of painting segments, the use of framing elements, and visual syntax are of particular importance.

3:20–4:00 PM
Panel Discussion with Presenters and Closing Remarks

This symposium is sponsored by the Department of Art History, and co-sponsored by the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, Center for East Asian Studies, Center for Visual Cultures, and the Chazen Museum of Art. It is funded by the UW–Madison Anonymous Fund and the Joan B. Mirviss Fund.