nara-ehon 奈良絵本
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
A type of illustrated woodblock-printed book or handscroll popular from the Muromachi through mid-Edo periods. Although widely used as a catch-all phrase for illustrated books and scrolls produced from the Muromachi period on, the term nara-ehon technically applies only to books of a certain size and format.

1 Horizontal woodblock print book format yokobon 横本, measuring approximately 16 cm x 22 cm, with hand-printed or printed illustrations of stories, mostly *otogi zoushi 御伽草子. The books are bound by folding the pages and pasting or sewing the back parts together *sasshibon 冊子本. The illustrations are thought to be the work of the Koufukuji 興福寺 Buddhist painters *ebusshi 絵仏師 of Nara who painted them when they were not engaged with Buddhist paintings. As the number of commissions at the Nara temples and the support of the nobility declined, these painters migrated to Kyoto where they set up studios and took orders for work, much in the manner of the town painters *machi-eshi 町絵師. Their studios later evolved into fan shops ougiya 扇屋 and painting shops *eya 絵屋. The term nara-ehon was not employed for this genre until the middle of the Meiji period and the connection to Nara probably lies with the origin of the artists who produced them. The covers of the books or scrolls are decorated with mist and cloud forms on dark blue paper, often with flowers and grasses painted in gold kindei 金泥. The titles were written on rectangular slips and pasted onto the upper middle or upper left side of the covers. Many of the flyleaves were further decorated with gold or silver foil *haku 箔 and *maniaigami 間似合紙 was used for writing the body of the text. Generally, the text and the illustration were rubbed off by handling. The stories themselves are taken from a variety of sources including *nou 能 chants, Buddhist sermons and Kouwakamai 幸若舞 plays. The paintings were somewhat rough, but the clear color, use of gold foil and artless brushwork provide simple and colorful illustration. They were even more popular and widely read than were handscrolls. The horizontal book format may have developed from earlier kogata-e 小型絵 or ko-e 小絵 which were small picture handscrolls about 16 or 17 cm high. These small scrolls have the same general characteristics and are often mistakenly termed nara-ehon.

2 Illustrated books, about 22 cm high and 16 cm wide, with finely painted illustrations employing shell white *gofun 胡粉. The books often have gold foil kinpaku 金箔 and gold dust *sunago 砂子 decorations not only on the paintings themselves, but also on the bindings.

3 Illustrated handscrolls on sightly larger paper, about 33cm high, which were produced during the Kanbun 寛文 era (1661-72). Since most were painted by members of the Tosa school *Tosaha 土佐派 and are stylistically different from nara-ehon, it is generally agreed that these should not be termed nara-ehon.


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