kara-e 唐絵
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Although literally translated to mean Tang dynasty Chinese 'kara 唐' painting, its definition and usage changed with time. The term kara-e was often used in reference to large paintings, such as folding or sliding screens, but was seldom applied to small-scale painting. It made its first appearance in literature of the mid-Heian period at a time when the Japanese had turned away from the wholesale borrowing of China's culture and socio-political system which had been the norm for centuries, awakening to an increased appreciation of indigenous taste and aesthetics. Gradually efforts were made to distinguish native Japanese paradigms from those of the Chinese. The term therefore inherently connotes a contrast with and contradistinction from *yamato-e やまと絵 (Japanese painting), emerging as a sign that the Japanese were willing to recognise the value of their own taste and indigenous styles of art. Kara-e first referred to imported Chinese painting; its definition was then expanded to include Japanese works modelled after Chinese painting. All Japanese painting thus came to be divided between the two large, contrasting categories of kara-e and yamato-e. Like the paintings that decorated some objects in the *Shousouin 正倉院 collection at Toudaiji 東大寺 in Nara (various musical instruments, the plectrums of biwa 琵琶 and other furnishing, and the screen painting depicting ladies under trees), kara-e depicted Chinese men and women, or exotic landscapes with tall, rugged precipices. These paintings were executed in vivid colors of mineral pigments, shadings were applied, and outlines were drawn in clearly discernible brushstrokes of black ink. After the rise of yamato-e in the mid-10c, kara-e adorned screens used for public, official, or ceremonial occasions. The Imperial Palace was traditionally decorated with screen paintings of Chinese sages or historical figures, and views of turbulent seas and foreign lands inhabited by strange and exotic creatures, based on descriptions given in a Chinese classic, the Shanhaiching (Jp: SENGAIKYOU 山海経). Under the dominance of yamato-e, a gradual Japanization of kara-e occurred, transforming paintings of Chinese subjects along the stylistic lines of yamato-e. A good example of this transformation may be seen in the Senzui byoubu 山水屏風 of the Kyoto National Museum, formerly in the collection of the Kyoto temple of Touji 東寺. The screen depicts a popular poet of Tang dynasty China at his favorite mountain retreat. The landscape setting consists of low-lying, rolling hills and a wide expanse of water, which are reminiscent of scenery in the Kyoto region. An often-quoted observation about landscape paintings by Kose no Kanaoka 巨勢金岡 of the late 9c succinctly describes this shift in painting style. Kanaoka was known to have painted mountains in fifteen tiers (tall precipices), while one of his descendants, Hirotaka 広貴 of the late 10c, piled only five layers of hills. As kara-e lost its original, distinctive features, the term began to denote paintings depicting Chinese subjects. After Chinese paintings of the Song and Yuan dynasties were introduced to Japan in the Kamakura period, ink monochrome paintings came to be called kara-e, especially as distinct from the Tosa school's *Tosaha 土佐派 traditional yamato-e works. In the broadest usage of the term, Ming and Ching Chinese works, introduced via Nagasaki in the 18c, and the Japanese paintings modeled after them also may be called kara-e. On the other hand, ink monochrome paintings of the Muromachi period and Kanou school *Kanouha 狩野派 paintings are sometimes referred to as *kanga 漢画 (Han dynasty Chinese painting). Throughout history, in spite of changes in definition, the term kara-e was used in a Buddhist context to describe Chinese imports .


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