nise-e 似絵
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Lit. Likeness picture. Kamakura period realistic portraiture of courtiers and warriors painted in the *yamato-e やまと絵 style as opposed to the idealized, formalized representations of Buddhist monks and others made for religious purposes. Nise-e, either individual or group portraits, are often sketchy, realistic portrayals. Typically, the bodies and stiff formal clothing are highly stylized and almost interchangeable, whereas the faces convey distinct personalities through detailed depiction of features characterized by repeated fine lines in ink. In group portraits, individuals are often identified by name. Realistic portraiture began in the late 12c. In 1173, the courtier Kujou Kanezane 九条兼実 (1149-1207) recorded in his diary, GYOKUYOU 玉葉 that he was astonished by the realistic likeness of the figures depicted of a royal excursion on screen paintings at the Saishoukouin 最勝光院. This no longer extant painting was commissioned from the court painters Tokiwa Mitsunaga 常磐光長 (active 1157-79) and Fujiwara no Takanobu 藤原隆信 (1142-1205). Fujiwara no Takanobu was the top portraitist of the day and so was assigned to paint the faces. A set of three hanging scrolls of portraits of Taira no Shigemori 平重盛 (1138-79), Minamoto no Yoritomo 源頼朝 (1147-99) and Minamoto no Mitsuyoshi 源光能 (late 12c; Jingoji 神護寺, Kyoto) is traditionally attributed to Takanobu. Takanobu's son, Nobuzane 信実 (1176-1269?), is thought to have established the realistic style of portraiture, and is regarded as the founder of nise-e. The first documented appearance of the term dates to 1241, when it was used in AZUMAKAGAMI 吾妻鏡, an official chronicle of the Kamakura military government. A portrait of the ex-Emperor Gotoba 後鳥羽 (1221; Minase Jinja 水無瀬神社, Osaka) and a handscroll of The Imperial Horse Guard, Zuijin teiki emaki 随身庭騎絵巻 (ca. 1247; Ookura Shuukokan 大倉集古館, Tokyo) are masterpieces attributed to Nobuzane. The nise-e tradition was handed down as a family speciality by the descendants of Nobuzane for six generations until the time of Goushin 豪信 (1319-48), who depicted a portrait of the Emperor Hanazono 花園 (1338; Choufukuji 長福寺, Kyoto). However, in the 14c, the word nise-e came to imply any realistic depiction of human figures including painting of poets *kasen-e 歌仙絵 and historical figures who lived generations before the artists; thus, the realistic character of portraiture as painted from life diminished. After the mid-15c, the term is no longer found in literary records. In addition to human portraiture, the term nise-e was also used for realistic representations of horses and bulls. A note concerning "nise-e of horses and trappings" is found in the handscrolls illustrating The Mongol Invasion of Japan, Mouko shuurai emaki 蒙古襲来絵巻 (ca. 1293; Imperial Collection). An outstanding example of an animal likeness painting is that of The Excellent Bulls, Shungyuu-zu 駿牛図 (14c), originally a single handscroll but now divided among various collections including Tokyo National Museum.

shungyuu-zu 駿牛図 at Tokyo National Museum  

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