shiki-e 四季絵
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Paintings of the four seasons. The term designates representations of Japanese landscape, flora, and people engaged in typical activities that reflect the seasons, usually in order from spring to winter. Shiki-e became popular at the Heian court in the late 9c or early 10c with the burgeoning of Japanese style poetry, waka 和歌, which relies on seasonal references to convey mood and emotion. Paintings of activities of the twelve months are often tied to agriculture or to religious festivals in landscape settings. *Tsukinami-e 月次絵 is another term used in the Heian period to refer to essentially the same seasonal subject matter and progressive compositional layout. *Meisho-e 名所絵, another important category of Heian secular painting, also tended to depict famous places around the capital in favorite seasons. These soon became formulaic, so that the Tatsuta River *Tatsutagawa 竜田川 and its red maple leaves always meant autumn or *Yoshino 吉野 was always depicted in spring with its blooming cherry trees. No Heian period shiki-e, tsukinami-e, or meisho-e are extant. However many waka written originally on *shikishi 色紙 affixed to screens survive to give a good indication of the titles and subjects of such painting compositions. Other documentary records also exist. Moreover the seasonal landscapes from the raigou scenes *raigou-zu 来迎図 decorating the walls and doors of Byoudouin *Hououdou 平等院鳳凰堂 (1053), Kyoto, show recognizably Japanese seasonal and genre motifs and reflect the painting style and techniques used for secular painting during the 10c and 11c. The seasons were not only a major subject of early *yamato-e やまと絵 but also provided a vocabulary of motifs later used and understood through all periods of Japanese painting. Laying out the composition in a progression through the seasons, which many believe began with shiki-e, has been an important method of organizing elements within a composition or of linking paintings in pairs or sets.


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