eshi 絵師
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Also written 画師. Also read ekaki. A painter or decorator, often a master painter. A term used especially to refer to a professional painter with recognized experience and lay status affiliated to an atelier (see *edokoro 絵所) or painters guild. A painter of religious subjects who was closely connected with a religious institution was called *ebusshi 絵仏師 or in a Buddhist order was called *gasou 画僧.
The earliest documentary references to eshi 画師 come from the Nara period. In the 6c and 7c, artists who emigrated from China and Korea to the Nara area organized into professional, hereditary painters organizations or clans. They and their descendents were officially given designations from their places of residence such as Kibumi no eshi (also read Kibumi no ekaki, 黄書画師 or 黄文画師), Yamashiro no eshi 山背画師, Kawachi no eshi 河内画師, Nara no eshi 楢画師, or Suhada no eshi 簀秦画師. In the 8c, the Nara court created an official government painting bureau within the Nakatsukasashou 中務省 and posts of court painters and decorators, edakumi no tsukasa 画工司 (also read gakoushi). The four top master painters within this organization were specifically called eshi 画師 and managed a group of at least 60 painter assistants, called egakibe 画部. The large scale temple building and erection of Buddhist images during the Nara period was largely directed by the central government and required centralized funding and organization.
Teamwork was organized among artists and artisans with clear division of labor or specialization. Just as individual artists did not work on their own, painting per se could not be separated from architectural and sculpture decoration. Documents record some painters tohakudo-eshi 塗白土画師, responsible for laying the ground coat (usually of kaolin-like white clay) on walls or on the wood-board of walls, doors, and pillars. Mokuga-eshi 木画画師 seem to have laid out design motifs saishiki-eshi 彩色画師 painted areas of color, and sakai-eshi 堺画師 added the final outline in ink *sumi 墨 or red *shu 朱. In addition to the Bureau of Painting, there were eshi, affiliated with the Temple Construction Bureau zouji no tsukasa 造寺司, as well as non-government or local painters and artisans sato-eshi 里画師, who were employed for especially large painting projects.
With the capital's move to Heiankyou 平安京 the Painting Bureau system broke down. In 808 the edakumi no tsukasa 絵内匠司 merged with the Takumiryou 内匠寮 and suffered a major reduction in staff. By the mid 9c an official court painting atelier called edokoro had been established within the palace precincts. The court and nobility patronized the eshi of the court atelier, and commissioned both painting and decoration for interiors and furnishings, often, although not exclusively, of secular function and subject matter. Most painting in the Heian period (as earlier) was religious, and most painters worked in affiliation with major Buddhist temples. Talented eshi from around the 11 or 12c came to be recognized as heads of the court atelier with the title administrator, edokoro bettou 絵所別当, or more commonly for head painters, edokoroazukari 絵所預. Other experienced painters were responsible for creating and laying out the compositions *sumigaki 墨画, and received court recognition, ranks and compensation accordingly. They were masters, in practice, of their own studios with assistants who included colorists, saishiki-eshi and apprentices, nitsukuriwarabe 丹調童, who ground and made up the primarily mineral pigments favored in the *yamato-e やまと絵 the style in which these artists worked. The Kose family *Koseha 巨勢派 served over several generations as master painters of the official court atelier. In addition, some talented aristocrats holding lower court ranks, who produced paintings but were never considered professional, were members of the edokoro, and were also called eshi. Moreover, retired emperors, insei 院政, the military bakufu 幕府 in Kamakura 鎌倉, and later the Ashikaga 足利 shogunate, and various temples and shrines established separate ateliers, headed by professional, often hereditary painters, also called eshi. From the 15c onward, the official master painters of the court atelier came from the Tosa family *Tosaha 土佐派. In the 17c the Tokugawa and wealthy lords of the Edo period patronized succeeding generations not only of Tosa painters, but members of the Soutanha 宗湛派 and *Kanouha 狩野派, who were recognized as official master painters *goyou-eshi 御用絵師.


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