uta-e 歌絵
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Lit. poem-painting.

1 A painting which illustrates the setting described in a Japanese poem, uta 歌 or waka 和歌. Developed during the Heian period, along with the illustrations of novels and stories monogatari-e 物語絵 or of diaries *nikki-e 日記絵, the uta-e is usually a small painting in a series mounted in a booklet or handscroll, painted in the *yamato-e やまと絵 style. Uta-e originally did not refer to large-scale screen painting.) The poem is commonly written above or beside the painting on the same sheet of paper. Occasionally it is written on a separate sheet of paper placed next to the painting.

2 A painting which alludes to a poem by skillfully incorporating pictorialized kana 仮名 (the Japanese syllabary) and allegorical natural imagery into a scene in order to form a kind of rhebus code for the poem which is now often very difficult to decipher. An important type is called ashide uta-e 葦手歌絵 (poem-painting in the reed-hand script; see *ashide 葦手) and hides syllables in the outlines of depictions of reeds, streams, rock, birds, etc.. An early example of uta-e of this type is The Illustrated Frontispiece of Chapter Five of a Lotus Sutra, known as the KUNOUJIKYOU 久能寺経 (dated to 1141; Mutou 武藤 collection, Osaka). This painting depicts a line from a poem by Fujiwara no Shunzei 藤原俊成 (1114-1204) which is based on one of his chapters. For example, the triad of wheel, rock, and crane in the foreground suggests three syllables of the word,wa-ka-zu わ-か-づ (without distinction): the wheel can be read wa わ (wheel), the rock is shaped like the kana symbol for ka か, and the crane (tsuru つる, 鶴) denotes the syllable tsu つ homophonic for zu ず. Similarly, a group of three birds (mi-tori みとり) flying in the sky are a clue for another word of the poem: midori みどり, 緑, "green".


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