onna-e 女絵
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Onna-e (feminine painting) is a most maligned term that invites various interpretations, some even contradictory. Heian period literature refers to this term several times, but without providing any useful hints as to its meaning, or descriptions of specific artistic qualities or qualifications; neither does it cite any particular examples of paintings that help define this term. The term first appeared in the KAGEROU NIKKI 蜻蛉日記, an autobiographical diary by the mother of Fujiwara no Michitsuna 藤原道綱, that covers the twenty-one year period from 954. It also seems to have been used to imply a contrast with otoko-e 男絵 (masculine painting), another term mentioned only a few times in literature. Its basic concept must have emerged within the Heian court environment, where various cultural and social elements were classified into "masculine" and "feminine": the term "masculine" denoted areas of public concerns, and "feminine" was reserved for private affairs. For example, otoko-de 男手 (man's hand) meaning calligraphy, referred to Chinese scripts, while onna-de 女手 was used to define the Japanese scripts called kana 仮名 and sousho 草書 (cursive writing). However, it is much more difficult to draw distinctions between otoko-e and onna-e than between types of scripts. Nevertheless, various hypotheses have been proposed concerning the meaning of these two words. One suggests that the words refer to the artists' genders, or to painting styles. It is generally agreed today that onna-e signified figure paintings, most likely secular narrative paintings involving the depiction of love affairs. As to the gender of the artists who employed it or the style of the painting, no conclusive evidence is available. Inferences have been made that otoko-e was the domain of professional (male) artists. Yet a certain court lady was also known for her skill in otoko-e. In addition, onna-e is described in one source as *doro-e 泥絵 (mud picture), a painting executed with the use of heavy, opaque mineral pigments. Thus, modern scholars hypothesize, although without assurance, that onna-e may have been paintings of monogatari 物語 (fiction) executed in brilliantly polychrome *tsukuri-e 作り絵 ("made-up" picture) technique, the best extant example of which is the early 12c Genji monogatari emaki 源氏物語絵巻, divided between the Tokugawa 徳川 and Gotou 五島 Museums. It is also noted that during the Heian period ink drawing was regarded as the most accomplished and difficult of painting technique, requiring highly skilled professionalism. It follows, then, that male professional artists distinguished themselves with their skills in this mode of painting. On the other hand, Akiyama Terukazu's 秋山光和 careful analysis of the Genji monogatari emaki suggests that its handscrolls originally included a large number of painted scenes, produced through highly organized team-work by a large group of professionals who were most likely male artists. It is thus best to avoid using these two terms, as their exact meanings and definitions cannot be made clear, and tend to confuse and contradict rather than elucidate.


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