|KEY WORD : art history / paintings|
|Sometimes called *eden 絵伝. Pictorial biographies of revered Buddhist priests and patriarchs. Most were produced in handscroll painting *emaki 絵巻 although some are on hanging scrolls *kakemono 掛物 often with scenes laid out in registers to be read like a handscroll. Great numbers of pictorial biographies of famous holy men were produced during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods and deal with both Chinese/Korean and Japanese sect founders and charismatic preachers. These kousouden grew out of a tradition of biographies of important religious figures dating at least from 6c in China. In Japan, such biographies, especially in the Pure Land tradition, were known as oujouden 往生伝 and described how exemplary priests or lay believers attained enlightenment and so died with equanimity. The illustrated biographies also focus on religious practices, good works, miraculous benefits of faith, attainment of enlightenment and a peaceful death often amid lotus petals and the appearance of a welcoming *Amida 阿弥陀 and his retinue. In these works legendary stories and parables are often interwoven with historic facts, but adhering to the nature of biography, most record actual personages and events and many extant examples are dated. An early work is Kegonshuu soshi eden 華厳宗祖師絵伝 (The Pictorial Biographies of the Founders of the Kegon Sect :early 13c; Kouzanji 高山寺, Kyoto), also known as Gishou Gengyou-e 義湘元暁絵 (The Painting of Gishou and Gengyou/Uisang and Wonhyo) after the names of two central characters who were Korean monks. The pictorial biography of the Chinese monk Jianzhen (Jp: Ganjin 鑑真, 687-763), who voyaged to Japan with great travails to found the Ritsu 律 sect (based at Toushoudaiji 唐招提寺) is entitled Touseiden emaki 東征伝絵巻 (Attacking the East) painted by Rengyou 蓮行 in 1298 Toushoudaiji, Nara. Other examples of non-Japanese protagonists are Joudo Goso emaki 浄土五祖絵巻 (The Biographies of Five Patriarchs of the Joudo Sect :1305; Koumyouji 光明寺, Kanagawa prefecture); and Genjou Sanzou emaki 玄奘三蔵絵巻 (The Biography of Xuanzhuang [Jp: Genjou 玄奘, 600/602-664] :early 14c ;Fujita 藤田 Art Museum, Osaka) painted at the court atelier under Takashina Takakane 高階隆兼. The Japanese holy men most frequently depicted were generally founders of the new Buddhist sects with their strong outreach in the Kamakura period. Many versions and copies were produced to answer the needs of itinerant proselytizers or temples seeking believers and support. Small groups would be given an explanation or recital of the biographies as the speaker pointed to the illustrations *etoki 絵解 and emphasized the unique powers of the founder's or sect's message and the benefits of belief and donations. Notable examples are: *Hounen Shounin eden 法然上人絵伝 (The Biography of Hounen :early versions 13-14c; Chion-in 知恩院, Kyoto) and *Shinran Shounin eden 親鸞聖人絵伝 (The Biography of Shinran :early versions 13-14c). *Ippen hijiri-e 一遍聖絵 (The Biography of Ippen :painted by priest En-i 円伊 and his atelier, 1299, Kankikouji 歓喜光寺, Kyoto) deserves special mention for its excellent combination of documentary, accuracy and pictorial beauty. Another lineage of Ippen illustrated biography began with a handscroll version by his disciple Taa 他阿 (1237-1319) which is called Ippen Shounin e-den 一遍上人絵伝 (two versions with many copies produced in and after the 14c). Another important work is the handscroll pair Yuuzuu nenbutsu engi 融通念仏縁起 which describes the life of Rounin 良忍 (1073-1132) an early advocate of the spiritual (and mundane) benefits of faithfully calling on and praising *Amida 阿弥陀 by reciting the formulaic prayer Namu Amida Butsu 南無阿弥陀仏. The 1314 original scrolls are no longer extant, but an early 14c copy is now preserved in Cleveland Museum and Art Institute of Chicago. The term kousouden-e usually refers to the paintings of famous priests made after 12c in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. However, there are some works which may be classified as such which date from the earlier Heian period. For example, Shoutoku Taishi eden 聖徳太子絵伝 (The Pictorial Biography of Prince Shoutoku) in its earliest extant version consists of wall paintings (formerly decorating the Picture Hall of Houryuuji 法隆寺, now in Tokyo National Museum) painted by Hata Chitei 秦致貞 in 1069. Prince Shoutoku, who is regarded as the introducer of Buddhism to Japan, was never a Buddhist priest although in popular belief he is revered as a Buddhist saint. After the 13c with the growth of the cult of Shoutoku Taishi encouraged by the established Nara sects such as Hossou 法相 and Tendai 天台, many versions and copies of Shoutoku's pictorial biography were made. Another famous Heian illustrated handscroll is Shighisan engi emaki 信貴山縁起絵巻 (The Legends of Mt. Shigi :late 12c; Chougosonshiji 朝護孫子寺, Nara). Although classified as a *shaji engi-e 社寺縁起絵, because it depicts miraculous annecdotes from the life of a temple/sect founder or reviver, in this case the priest Myouren 命蓮, it can also be regarded as a type of illustrated historical biography.|
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