Japan Arts and Architecture Part II

Nara period

Buddhist art reaches its peak between 645 and 794; the epoch takes its name from the city of Heijō (od. Nara), built following the model of the Chang’an of the Tangs (618-907) in China. The transfer of the capital to Heijō took place in 710; the phase between 645 and 710 is also indicated with the name Hakuhō, while part of the subsequent one up to 748 is also called Tempyō. In architecture we are witnessing the construction of increasingly elaborate templar complexes, among which they impose themselves in the mid-8th century. the Tōshōdaiji and the Tōdaiji, with the double-roofed Hall of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu-den), consecrated in 752. The relationship with the continental tradition is still evident, but forms and stylistic solutions are increasingly freed from models; in the figurative arts a more conscious naturalistic rendering is reached in the treatment of the image. In sculptural production, the use of wood and bronze is accompanied by clay and dry lacquer. In lacquer are masterpieces such as the Portrait of Ganjin in the Tōshōdaiji, from the late 8th century, testifying the growing interest in portraiture, and the Ashura with three heads and six arms of the Kōfukuji of Nara, of 734. In the kondō of the Hōryūji they are made, between the end of the 7th century. and the beginning of the 8th century, wall paintings, of Chinese stylistic origin, of the highest quality, damaged by a fire in 1949, while in the Yakushiji, also in Nara, the very fine painting of the 8th century is preserved. with the goddess Kichijōten. Starting from 756, more than 10,000 works from the caravan routes of the ancient Silk Road, from the West to China, have been collected and jealously preserved since then in the Shōsōin (treasure warehouse in the Tōdaiji, an interlocking architectural jewel). together with contemporary Japanese productions (masks, textiles, musical instruments).

Heian period

According to JUSTINSHOES, the transfer of the capital to Heian (od. Kyoto) in 794 coincides with the beginning of the long Heian period (between 794 and 1185), which can be divided into several phases. At first, when close relations with Tang China are still maintained, at least until 894, the diffusion of esoteric Buddhism takes shape, with the predominance of the mystical sects Tendai, Shingon and Amidista, who founded convents and monasteries among the mountains. In 9th century painting dominate symbolic representations with complex meanings, from the schematic compositional structure, centered on the representation of the Buddha, in the so-called mandara. Imposing images recur in the statuary, often carved on wood obtained from a single tree trunk. Subsequently, a detachment from Chinese influences is observed and the aesthetic solutions are aligned with the models expressed within the highly refined imperial court; the architectural solutions conform to the style called shindenzukuri in which pavilions and gardens blend harmoniously, as evidenced by examples from the mid-11th century, such as the Byōdōin Buddhist temple in Uji, with the famous Hall of the Phoenix (Hōōdō); in the Shinto context, the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima is remembered. In the pictorial field the properly Japanese style develops (yamato-e); long horizontal rolls to be unwound from right to left (emakimono) depict famous novels (illustrious example the Genji monogatari, first half of the 12th century), uplifting stories of holy monks and suggestive caricature subjects. In the statuary we meet sculptors with recognizable identity, such as Jōchō, author around 1053 of the wooden Buddha Amida Nyorai in Byōdōin.

Kamakura period

The Kamakura period (1192-1333) derives its name from the actual shift of power to Kamakura, under the leadership of the shōgun, while the emperor remains with his court in Kyoto, fulfilling a purely nominal function. If in painting the art of the court continues, in religious sculpture they meet, between the late 12th century. and the first decades of the 13th century, three great figures: Kōkei, Unkei and Kaikei, masters in woodworking, and with a sensitivity marked by powerful realism. Attention to real data also recurs in portraits, both in sculptures and in paintings, among which the vertical scrolls (kakemono) of representatives of the Minamoto clan. The indigenous techniques of working lacquer objects are perfected, while the use of glazing ceramic products appears more and more frequently, following the Chinese models, but with a preference for a simple and unadorned rendering. In the Buddhist field, also from China, the practice of Chan arrives, spreading rapidly with the name of Zen and becoming one of the main reference models in society, culture and the arts. The first temples were erected in Kyoto and Kamakura, whose shapes depend on Song models (960-1279) and whose ‘Chinese style’, called karayō, is recognized in the 1283 Engakuji shariden (room of relics). likewise from China, an ‘Indian style’ is also used (tenjikuyō) documented in the reconstruction of the Tōdaiji. A final example of the vitality of the period is the colossal Great Buddha in bronze (1252) outside the Kōtokūin in Kamakura.

Japan Arts and Architecture 2

You may also like...