Monday, September 28, 2009

The Heian Period continued....

The Heian Period was an intermediate stage in the development of Japanese drapery for Buddhist statuary. During this period came Honpashiki Emon (rolling wave) and Renpashiki Emon (rippling wave). Both aimed to achieve a water-like pattern of regularity by alternating between deep and shallow folds that flowed down the garment in evenly spaced regular patterns, like waves breaking on the beach.

Example: Hopna Shiki Emon Drapery  
Sitting Shaka Nyorai
Early Heian Period, Muroji Temple

Gaki Zoshi (Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts)
Heian Period - 12th century 

In the last century of the Heian Period, the horizontal, illustrated narrative handscroll, known as e-maki ("picture scroll") came to the fore. E-maki combines both text and pictures, and is drawn, painted, or stamped on handscroll. They depict battles, romance, religion, folk tales, and stories of the supernatural world. Though beginning under Chinese influence, e-maki truly developed into a vital and dynamic art form in the hands of the Japanese.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Heian Period (794-1185)

Murō-ji Temple

In reaction to the growing wealth & power of organized Buddhism, the priest Kukai, journeyed to China to study Shingon; a more rigorous form of Buddhism, which he introduced to Japan in 806. At the core of Shingon worship are mandalas, diagrams of the spiritual universe, which then began to influence temple design.

Taizokai (Womb World)
Heian Period (9th Century)

Detail from Taizokai 
(Womb World)
The oldest color mandala still 
in existence in Japan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Asuka and Nara Periods (538-794)

In my opinion, not much changed in terms of Japanese "art evolution" during these periods. However, the earliest Japanese sculptures of the Buddha are dated to back to the Asuka and Nara periods, which coincides with the introduction of Buddhism in the country. 

Seated Buddha
Asuka Period, 7th century.
Tokyo National Museum

Here's an interesting little tidbit that I found about Buddha ("the awakened"). His birth name was Siddhartha Gautama, and at age 30 he left a life of luxury and devoted himself to years of contemplation and self-denial. According to tradition, he finally reached enlightenment while sitting beneath a pipal tree (know known as the Bohdi tree) in India. Henceforth, known as Buddha, he spent his life teaching his disciples about his beliefs and the goal of achieving the enlightened state of Nirvana, which is the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states. He died at age 80, possibly from food poisoning.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Japonism - a french term which is used to describe the influence of the arts of Japan on those of the West, especially in impressionism. 

Van Gogh - Portrait of Père Tanguy
Example of ukiy-e (wood block prints
influence in Western art (1887-1888) 

Van Gogh only made a handful of paintings with direct Japanese influences. However, he had collected thousands of prints, from which to study. Notice the two courtesans flanking Tanguy on either side, and the image of Mt. Fuji hovering above his head. Immediately, I could see that this painting was a Van Gogh by the use of color and heavy brush strokes. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kofun Period (ca. 250-538 AD)

Jar Early Kofun Period, 4th century

Kofun Period - ("old tomb") this period in Japanese history takes its name from the tomb mounds, which are associated with the rich funerary rituals of the time. (See picture below.)

Daisenryo Kofun, the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, (5th century)

Sueki pottery - marks a turning point in the history of Japanese ceramics since Sueki ware was molded with aid the of the potter's wheel. The pottery was fired in a Korean-style anagma kiln, made of a single tunnel-like chamber half buried in the ground along the slope of a hill. Sueki ware was usually made of blue-gray clay and is often thin-bodied and hard. 

Decorated Sueki Jar, Kofun Period (6th century)

Haniwa - are terra cotta clay figures which were made for ritual use and buried with the dead as funerary objects. They were made in numerous forms to include domesticated animals, houses, weapons, pillows, and male and female forms. It is believed that the soul of the deceased would reside in the hawina. However, as the Kofun people became more developed, the haniwa was set towards the outside of the grave area, and it is thought that they were used as boundary markers.   

Haniwa sculpture: Bust of a Warrior
Kofun Period (ca. 3rd century - 538)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the beginning there was pottery....

Jomon Period (ca. 11,000- ca. 300 B.C.) 
Bottle, Late Jomon period (ca. 1500–1000 B.C.) 

Jomon Period - the term 'Jomon' means "cord-patterned" in Japanese, which refers to the markings made on clay vessels and figures by using sticks with cords wrapped around them. The Jomon people created the first known pottery vessels in the world. Their pots were made by hand, without the aid of a wheel. The clay they used was mostly composed of mica, lead, fibers and crushed shells. The potter would build up the vessel from the bottom with coil upon coil of soft clay. 

Dogu (pronounced dough-goo)- these small clay figurines were made during the late Jomon period. The purpose of Dogu remains unclear, but it is theorized that these figures may of represented a Mother Goddess to whom Jomon people prayed to for health or safe childbirth. Dogu come entirely from the Jomon period and do not continue to the Yayoi period. 

Bust of a female figurine, (Dogu) Final Jomon period (ca. 1000–300 B.C.

Yayoi Period (ca. 500 B.C.-300 A.D)

Yayoi Storage Vessel, Japan, (400 BC-300 AD)

Yoyoi Period - In striking contrast to Jomon pottery, Yayoi vessels have a clean, functional shapes. The technical process of pottery making remained essentially the same, however, there are two technical differences. The surfaces of Yayoi vessels were smoothed, and clay slip was sometimes applied over the body to make it less porous. Yayoi craft specialists also made bronze ceremonial bells (Dotaku), mirrors, and weapons.  

Bell (dotaku), late Yayoi period (ca. 4th century B.C.–3rd century A.D.)

Dotaku - ceremonial bells smelted from thin bronze and richly decorated with hatched lines, spirals, and geometric patterns, although representations of nature and animals appear on some examples. Some historians believe that dotaku were used to pray for good harvests. 

Stay tuned....
Kofun Period
Asaku and Nara Period
Heian Period

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Japanese Art?

Japanese art has an extensive history beginning as early as 10,000 BCE. Japanese art embraces a plethora of different mediums and styles to include ancient pottery, ink paintings on silk and paper, origami, calligraphy, sculpture in wood and bronze and more recently magna (cartoons) and anime (Japanese animation).  Even Japanese gardens and Samurai armor are skillfully and beautifully crafted.