utaawase-e 歌合絵
CATEGORY: art history / paintings
 
A series of paintings, usually in handscroll format, arranged as if in a poetry contest utaawase 歌合, where poems composed on assigned topics by members of two opposing teams arejudged. These poetry contests originated in the late 9c. and became very popular among aristocrats during the 12c. The paintings usually are imaginary portraits of the poets or, occasionally, landscapes described in the poem. Utaawase-e are divided into the following three types.

1 *Kasen-e 歌仙絵, or imaginary portraits of famous (literally immortal) poets. In "The Satake version of Portraits of The Thirty-six Immortal Poets" Satakebon sanjuurokkasen-e 佐竹本三十六歌仙絵 of the mid-13c., the earliest extant example of kasen-e, poets were divided into two groups to make eighteen pairs. This arrangement was followed in versions of the illustrated Thirty-six Immortal Poets. A painted version of an another anthology of an imaginary poetry contest, "The Competition among Poets of Different Generations" Jidaifudou utaawase 時代不同歌合, was offered in 1336 to a shrine dedicated to the ex-Emperor Gotoba 後鳥羽 (1180-1239), compiler of the anthology. Extant illustrated examples of the same anthology, which date from the 14c. or later, often painted in the *hakubyou 白描 technique. These imaginary portraits of famous historical poets occupy an important part of the utaawase-e tradition.

2 An illustrated record of an actual poetry contest. Although there are many records of poetry contests, only a few were illustrated. The Illustrated Handscroll of "The Poetry Contest Based on Paintings of New Scenic Spots" Shinmeisho-e utaawase emaki 新名所絵歌合絵巻 in the collection of the Ise Jinguu 伊勢神宮, records an actual poetry competition which took place in late 1294 or 1295. It was held among sixteen priests of the Ise Jinguu, each of whom composed ten poems based on ten paintings of the selected noteworthy sites in Ise province. It originally consisted of two handscrolls, only the second of which is extant, but the original structure can be conceived from the copies. Each scroll consisted of five pairs of text and painting. Each text, in which eight pairs of poems made at the poetry contest were written, is followed by a landscape painting on which the poems were based. most

3 "Illustrations of A Poetry Competition among People of Various Occupations" shokunin utaawase-e 職人歌合絵 is a generic term for an imaginary poetry contest in which the competing poets are depicted with the garb and tools of various occupations. The term shokunin 職人, means "craftsmen" in modern Japanese, but in the 13-15c. implied virtually any member of the urban population, as opposed to an aristocrat or a peasant. People such as physicians, fortunetellers, dancers, painters, metal-workers, woodcutters, and gamblers are depicted with poems attributed to them. It is a competition conceived by a single author, and the attribution to persons of various occupations is merely a device to allow artists to explore genre themes. Numerous versions and later copies of illustrations of several different texts of shokunin poetry contests, which were most popular in the late Kamakura and Muromachi periods, are extant. Two outstanding examples are: Illustrated Handscroll of "The Touhoku'in Poetry Contest among Persons of Various Occupations" Touhoku'in shokunin utaawase emaki 東北院職人歌合絵巻 (early 14c.; Tokyo National Museum), and Illustrated Handscroll of "The Poetry Contest among Persons of Varions Occupations in Thirty-two Rounds" Sanjuuniban shokunin utaawase emaki 三十二番職人歌合絵巻 (Muromachi period; Tenri 天理 Library, Nara).
 
 

 
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