|CATEGORY: art history / paintings|
| Also written 大和絵 and 倭絵. A widely used description term which has carried various nuances in different periods, but generally applied to paintings whose subject matter, format and/or style are considered "Japanese," as opposed to something "foreign," or "Chinese." The term is derived from an ancient name for the Nara area where the earliest Japanese emperors (by the 6c) established the Yamato 大和 court. The earliest documented use of the term yamato-e dates from the late 10c, but it is likely that by the late 9c Heian aristocrats had come to decorate their residences with folding screen *byoubu 屏風 and panel *shouji 障子 paintings of landscapes with geographic features, seasonal references, or other genre elements that were recognizably Japanese. These secular types of subject matter including *meisho-e 名所絵 and *tsukinami-e 月次絵 (also *shiki-e 四季絵) were all called yamato-e to distinguish them from paintings with Chinese landscape or genre subject matter which were called *kara-e 唐絵. No large-scale Heian secular painting survives; however, fragmentary evidence of existing records and religious paintings suggest that yamato-e was painted in the same prevailing style as kara-e. Kara-e style was based on the Chinese Six Dynasties or Early Tang expression and techniques, and generally employed bright-colored, opaque pigments with figures clearly outlined and detailed in black *sumi 墨 ink. In the Heian period small size paintings in handscroll or booklet format with Japanese subject matter were usually termed story illustrations monogatari-e 物語絵 or poetry paintings *uta-e 歌絵, not yamato-e. Thus, in its earliest use, yamato-e seems to have referred to subject matter and/or format.
By the 12c, the application of yamato-e broadened with the introduction of ink painting *suibokuga 水墨画 by Zen monks who had come from or studied in Yuan or Ming China. The new ink painting was clearly Chinese and was therefore given the name kara-e (or later *kanga 漢画). With this change in the definition of kara-e came a change in the definition of yamato-e. During the middle ages yamato-e came to mean any painting in the tradition of the brightly colored style favored by the Heian court in any format (handscrolls included) regardless of subject matter.
Ink-painting flourished because of its connection with the Zen establishment, particularly among the warrior ruling classes. The new conservative style of yamato-e was favored by the court and aristocracy as a means of preserving the remnants of their power and cultural prestige. The aristocracy perpetuated the old rituals by both practising and patronizing the courtly arts of Japanese-style poetry and Japanese-style calligraphy, both of which are inextricably linked with yamato-e. The painters at the official atelier *edokoro 絵所 were therefore given great incentive to continue working in the yamato-e style. Their subjects came from the waka 和歌 (Japanese poetry) anthologies, or the great tales of courtly romance and history in such works as GENJI MONOGATARI 源氏物語 (The Tale of Genji, see *genji-e 源氏絵) or HEIKE MONOGATARI 平家物語 (The Tale of The Heike, see *heike-e 平家絵), which often recalled the golden past of the court. Often these themes were imbued with a Buddhist awareness of the transience of privilege, status and indeed of all life, themes which had a particular irony, considering the troubled times that existed outside the court during the late Kamakura and Muromachi periods.
After the 15c, when successive generations of the Tosa family *Tosaha 土佐派 assumed headship azukari 預 of the edokoro, yamato-e came to refer to paintings whose style was increasingly miniaturist and gilded. By the 16c, other distinct painting schools began to flourish, particularly the Kanou school *Kanouha 狩野派, and yamato-e therefore became more deeply identified with the Tosa and related Sumiyoshi family *Sumiyoshiha 住吉派. Yamato-e also influenced the *Rinpa 琳派 and *ukiyo-e 浮世絵 styles.
From the mid-Edo period (late 17c/early 18c), yamato-e came to be written 大和絵. In the late Edo period (late 18c/early 19c) artists following Tanaka Totsugen 田中訥言 (1767-1823), such as Ukida Ikkei 浮田一慧 (1795-1859), and Okada Tamechika 岡田為恭 (1823-64), studied yamato-e from earlier periods (especially the Tosa tradition) and attempted to revive its style and themes. Many affiliated with the Yamato-e Revivalist School *Fukko yamato-eha 復古大和絵派 took dangerous political risks supporting a monarchist restoration in opposition to the failing Tokugawa 徳川 government. Yamato-e continued to influence painters in the Meiji period (late 19c) particularly those whose particular interest was historic themes rekishigaha 歴史画派, for one. Even in the 20c, yamato-e influenced the broad range of painting known as *nihonga 日本画, which employs the traditional yamato-e pigment and tools, as well as some of its style and themes.
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