Kamakura Period | Japanese Art History | Little Art Talks


Hey Everyone, So today we are in Kamakura,
visiting the Daibutsu, which is this giant buddha statue behind me. It’s really crowded today so it’s kinda
loud, I’m going to move to a quieter place. Is that a little better? While the Heian time was a period of peace
and tranquility, the Kamakura and Muromachi periods were the time of wars and power struggles.
Power shifted from the nobility to the warrior class and artisans had a new patron to cater
to – one that had distinct aesthetic tastes and interest from the nobility. Let’s take a look at the history of the Kamakura
period and it’s art history. After centuries-long power struggle between
the imperial house and the powerful Fujiwara clan, control over the government shifted
away from both of them. The war turned into a fight between the two most powerful warrior
clans, the Taira and the Minamoto. First let’s talk about who these warrior
clans are. In the Heian period, the court and metropolitan
aristocracy were reluctant to leave the capital, but their primary source of income were from
country estates, or shōen, scattered throughout the provinces. Thus, they would appoint regents
to oversee their properties and these positions often became hereditary, falling to certain
clans who aligned with the great aristocratic houses who owned the land. They pretty much become like sub branch of
these houses, and it was their duty to enforce their lord’s will and defend his rights
against the encroachment of any neighboring shōen. Therefore, they maintained a level
of martial capability that had been abandoned in the capital during the long period of peace. Since lands were worked by peasants, who were
basically a bonded serf, attached to a shōen, whenever imperial taxation or the demands
of the shōen lords became too great, and an uprising would occur, it was one of these
provincial clans who were called upon to put down the unrest. By the 12th c., these military
policemen were known as the samurai – literally meaning “one who serves”. The war devastated the Heian period aristocratic
society: the capital was left in ruins and great temples in Nara were burned to the ground. The leader of the victorious Minamoto clan,
Minamoto Yoritomo, established a new form of military government called the bakufu,
and placed himself as the general, called shogun. By moving the government to the seaside village
of Kamakura, Minamoto Yoritomo was able to force the emperor out of the state affairs.
The emperor at this point was rendered powerless, remaining a divine figurehead in Kyoto. The nobility, who once had great influence
and authority with their money and association with the imperial court, was more and more
cut off from their sources of revenue, as land was taken away and given to the bakufu
and their allies. The aristocracy’s power dwindled as their
wealth was used up. These new lords, or landowners, who pledged
allegiance to the Shogun came to be known as daimyo, literally meaning “great name”.
It’s applied to any lord (whether court aristocrat or samurai) of a large estate,
but as most great estates were passed into samurai hands, the title took on a military
association. Yoritomo’s daimyo resided with him in Kamakura,
while appointed stewards (called shugo) oversaw estates. The art of the Kamakura period is characterized
by a couple trends, which will be covered in depth during this video:
As the Warrior class grew in power and wealth, they became important pations of the arts.
Their taste aesthetics were reflected in the work they commissioned
Armour and lacquerware became further developed and adorned
And their Taste was luxurious but masculine. Buddhist art was also influenced by the military
clans, as massive rebuilding projects began after the war, and it was financed by these
military figures. Priests became more committed to making Buddhism
more available to illiterate commoners and the conservative, so there is a Popularizing
tend seen in Buddhist art, marking works more accessible to a wider audience.
Sculpture became more realistic and underwent a classical revival. This period is often
regarded as the ‘Renaissance era of Japanese sculpture’.
Renewed interest in Chinese culture also brought contemporary Song dynasty influences into
their work. We also see a number of artworks referring
to the Heian period, marked with a sense of longing for the golden age. Kyoto and Nara
remained the centers of artistic production and high culture Since the shogun was a seat won in war, you
better bet that other military clans had their eye on the prize – and by prize I basically
mean the power to rule the nation. In the following centuries, throughout Kamakura,
civil wars were fought among different military class and factions for the title of shogun. Armorers and lacquer craftsmen made great
strides in these periods. As you can imagine, there was ample patronage from the newly wealthy
samurai class. In the Heian period, arms and armor were divided
between those made for aristocratic patons – meant for court ceremonies – and those made
for the battlefield. This means, that ones that were pretty were not necessarily functional.
Once power shifted to the samurai, there was a greater effort on combining both approaches
so that the strong and deadly weapons were also aesthetically beautiful – both elegant
and durable. Suits of armour were more opulent and luxurious,
but also of what was then considered a deeply masculine aesthetic. The majority of samurai armour is made out
densely woven lacquered iron and leather, while the decorative areas are made out of
silk, gilt copper and doeskin. The breastplate of this suit is decorated with a colored image
of Fudō, the Immovable. A ferocious looking deity whose menacing glare subdues evil and
frightens unbelievers. While E-maki, or painted scrolls, continues
to be produced during the Kamakura period, this period is much more strongly characterized
by sculpture, regarded as the “Renaissance era of Japanese sculpture”. The Kei school of sculptors, based in Nara,
was perfectly positioned to carry out the rebuilding and restoration of sculptures of
temples affected by war. The school itself is a legacy of Heian sculptor Jōchō, and
they created a new, more realistic style of sculpture.
Important figures of this school include Kōkei and his sons, Unkei and Kaikei. (By the way,
these studios were often a family affair, hence the Kei names)
And they’re responsible for some of the most Innovative and accomplished works of
the Kamakura. Succeeding the “yosegi-zukuri”, or multi-block,
technique, they studied early Nara period masterpieces and Chinese Song dynasty sculptures
and paintings. Reviving qualities such as Representation of sentiment, Solidity, and
Movement. Their choice of medium was wood and bronze,
so what wasn’t revived was Clay, Dry-lacquer, Embossing, Terracotta sculptures
In the first years after the Genpei Civil War, one of the top priorities was renewal.
They wanted to revitalize the nation’s traditional religious foundations, rebuild Buddhist temples
damaged or destroyed during the wars, and update the existing religious institutions
to satisfy the newly emerging needs and tastes. One of the highest priority was the rebuilding
of the highly revered ancient temple, Tōdaiji in Nara. The priest who was placed in charge
of the rebuilding efforts was Shunjōbō Chōgen. Having visited China three times to further
his Buddhist training, he had learned contemporary Chinese Buddhist architecture, which influenced
the rebuilding aesthetic, called daibutsuujo (or Great Buddha style).
This portrait sculpture of Chōgen shows the starkly realistic style of this period. Probably
made shortly after the priest’s death in 1206, it would have been used for memorial
services in his honor. It shows him as an old man, sitting in a slightly hunched forward
position reciting the nenbutsu mantra. He keeps count of his recital with the prayer
beads of his rosary. Made of hinoki, Japanese cypress, in the multiple
block technique, it is decorated simply with paint, fleshtones for the skin and black for
the robe. The sculptor paid close attention to the details of the face: with prominent
cheekbones, wrinkled flesh, pursed lips and deep eye cavities under bony eyebrows. This
is an image of an old priest who is physically and emotionally tough and wholeheartedly committed
to his religious vocation. Tōdaiji is also home to one of the most famous
works of Unkei and Kaikei during this time, which is a colossal pair of Kongō-rikishi.
The two Niō guardian images which flank the sides of the Nandaimon, or Great South Gate,
are a great example of the dynamic, realistic style of this period.
Around 8 m, or 26 ft, tall, they are carved from multiple blocks and took about three
months to create – indicative of the sophisticated studio system of artisans who worked under
the direction of a master sculptor. These figures, called the Niō guardians protects
the entrance gate at temples. Agyō, with his mouth open on the right, and Ungyō with
his mouth closed on the left, are said to represent life and death, the beginning and
the end. Their fierce and threatening appearances ward off evil spirits, keeping the temple
grounds free of demons and thieves. The two guardians stand in dramatic, hip-slung
poses, giving the impression of arrested motion. Raising their arm in a strong, protective
gesture, their scarves and skirts are swept to one side. The carving strongly emphasize
the three dimensional features and sense of movement.
Their knowledge of 8th c. Nara sculpture was used to rework a new style appropriate for
the times. The realism, emphasized to a point of exaggeration, heightens the sense of drama. An example of Unkei’s mature style can be
found the Hokuendō, or North Octagonal Hall, of the Kofukuji Temple complex. At the center
is Miroku Butsu (or Future Buddha), who was originally attended by two bodhidsattvas,
Shitennō (The Four Guardian Kings), and two Indian rakan. Of these, only Miroku and the
two rakan have survived. Miroku sits cross-legged on a tall octagonal
platform, with an elaborate openwork halo behind his head. This sculpture presents the
mature Buddha of the Future, and Unkei has achieved a new balance of proportions, similar
to how Jōchō created new proportions for Amida Nyorai in the Byōdoin during the Heian
period. This figure doesn’t appear to be top heavy. The facial features and the drapery
are more deeply carved, giving it a more natural look. The eyeballs are made of an inset crystal,
a practice which became common in the late 12th c. The pupils seem to be focused downward,
suggesting an expression of melancholy. The style is more approachable, a gentle, almost
human looking deity with whom the worshiper can hope to communicate.
In Buddhism, the rakan, also known as arhat, have not yet achieved complete Enlightenment,
but are far along the path to it, already free from rebirth. The brothers Muchaku and
Seshin are depicted. Muchaku is depicted as a more slender figure than his brother, and
holds a cylindrical object, perhaps a reliquary, wrapped in a piece of cloth. Seshin’s hands
appear to be gesturing as he speaks. Muchaku appears more reflective and introverted, while
the other is outgoing, seeming to make eye contact with the viewer. Both wear priest’s
robes that fall in deeply carved and irregularly patterned folds. They appear completely natural,
freestanding and not frontally posed. A particularly striking image is one by Unkei’s
son, Kōshō. This image is of Kuuya, a priest who traveled though the island of Honshu to
spread the message of Amida Buddhism. He converted to Amidism after he killed a deer and then
realized the enormity of his act. He proceeded to teach the nenbutsu mantra at each village
and town with a ritual of worship that included chanting the mantra while dancing to gongs
and bells. An antler is affixed to his walking staff, serving as a reminder of the reason
he became a priest. Kooshoo’s statue shows the man in a walking
stance, with a gong held to his chest by a yoke over his shoulders. Attached to a wire
coming out of the priest’s mouth are six standing Amida Buddha figures, symbolizing
the six syllables of the mantra. Portraying his dedication and faith.
After the Genpei war, Priest Myōe Sōnin sought to revive the Kegon sect, one of the
important sects during the Nara period, but struggled while Pure Land sects became more
popular. As a son of a Fujiwara mother and a Taira adopted father, he was orphaned at
the beginning of the Genpei Civil war. He was adopted a year later by his uncle, a monk
at Jingoji. Myōe was a bit of a recluse, uninterested
in the rebuilding projects, and instead turned his attention to forming a new Buddhist doctrine
based on a combination of elements of the Shingon and Kegon. The Kegon engi emaki, consisted of two narrative
scrolls. It depicts the life of the two Korean monks, Uisang and Wōnhyo (their Japanese
names being Gishō and Gangyō, respectively). They are the two founders of the Korean Kegon
school, from which Japanese Kegon buddhism is derived. The story begin with the two monks leaving
the Korean kingdom Silla, intending to travel to China together. The two spend their first
night in a burial cave, taking shelter from the rain. Gangyō decides to look within himself
to decide the best course of action, and after seeing a gruesome single-horned demon, he
decides to abandon his plans for travel. Gishō, however, continues on to China, and
has a bunch of adventures. Just before he returns to Korea, he meets the beautiful Zenmyō,
who falls in love with him. Being devoted to Dharma, he ignores her attentions and she
is forced to accept her beloved’s religious dedication. When he returns to his homeland,
she throws herself into the ocean and protects his ship as a dragon. Yep, You heard that right, she turned into
a dragon. Bet you can’t say that you’ve done that for love! This scroll is an excellent example of the
popularizing tend in the Kamakura period. It is created for a wider range of people,
perhaps even catering to a female audience, suggested by the limited use of Chinese characters,
which women were discouraged from learning, and the emphasis on Zenmyō as a protector.
The story reads like an epic novel, filled with a long journey and poignant love story,
and the speech, written right next to the characters, is comparable to contemporary
comic strips. While the Heian aristocracy were successfully
pushed aside by the new government, that isn’t to say there wasn’t anyone missing the good
ol’ days. Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji Monogatari continued
to be read, and a new set of Genji Monogatari emaki were produced. There was also greater
interest in Murasaki Shikibu herself. The nobility, nostalgic for the past days of wealth
and power, revived and illustrated her diary in order to recapture the splendor of the
author’s times. The diary consists of anecdotes from her time
as a lady-in waiting in the imperial court in Kyoto. Events include celebrations surrounding
birth of Prince Atsuhira, but despite the gaiety and splendor of such events, Murasaki
often reveals her dissatisfaction with court life. Scene are filled with a sense of the fleeting
nature of joy and pleasure. Oftentimes it reflects the author’s feelings of loneliness
and being subject to the will of people who outrank her. On one occasion, two drunken
courtiers attempt to come into her room as she holds her windows shut against them. While the pictorial compositions are similar
to those of the Heian-period illustrations of Genji monogatari, the effects in the 13th
c. scroll is entirely different. While the Heian period illustrations expressed character
emotions though landscape, Here the figures instead express themselves
directly, and the landscape becomes a pictorial element to be appreciated apart from the events
in the narrative. Like the Heian period scrolls, the work is
made with the tsukuri-e technique, but without the same care. Silver is used less frequently,
and less attention has been given to interior architectural details, such as designs on
sliding doors. Amida Buddhism, or Pure Land Buddhism grew
in popularity since the Middle Heian period. However, surrounded by devastation during
times of war, people perceived themselves to be living in the time of mappō. According to Buddhist tradition, at the end
of the age of the present Buddha, Shaka, is the time of mappō, a degenerate period of
ten thousand years, distinguished by conflict, cruelty, and despair. In the mappō phase,
evil is so pervasive that conventional strategies for attaining nirvana – such as reading and
copying the sutras, and meditation – would be of no avail. Pure Land Buddhism, on the other hand, provided
a sure path to salvation for men and women who found little solace from other Buddhist
schools. It is centered on the belief that salvation – or rebirth in Amida’s Paradise
– could be achieved through faith in Amida Buddha and the practice of the nenbutsu mantra. The two types of pure land devotional paintings
– mandalas and raigō paintings – took on renewed importance. Their imagery focuses
on the depiction of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, and contemplation of these paintings
is intended to aid the practitioner in visualizing the promised land. The Taima Mandara is one of the earliest of
which is preserved in a tapestry version in the Taimadera, a temple in the village of
Taima in the Nara prefecture. It’s estimated to have been made in the later half of the
Nara period, and an import from China. There are no references to it in the Nara or Heian
period documents, but it was rediscovered in the 13th c. and became the prototype for
a series of mandala paintings of Amida’s western paradise. So popular it was to copy this original, that
I could only find this one detail photo of the original, but plenty of copies, such as
this one, executed in rich colors, gold, and silver. The central element of the mandala is an image
of the Court of Essential Doctrine depicting Amida’s paradise. The Buddha is seated on
a high octagonal throne flanked by the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi, who occupy lower lotus-blossom
thrones. Numerous smaller bodhisattvas and deities wearing skirts, scarves, and crowns
surround the triad. Behind this is are multistoried palaces, and in front of them a large lotus
pond, out of which the souls of the blessed will be reborn into the paradise on lotus
blooms. Boats are poled between the blossoms to collect the small children and other human
figures who represent the reborn souls. Along the sides and bottom of the painting
are images of the Sutra on the Meditation of the Buddha and Infinite Life.
On the left is the Court of the Prefatory Legend, in which a wicked crown prince imprisoned
his father to be starved to death. However the old king’s principal wife and prince’s
mother, Ideiki brought him food to keep him alive. When the prince found out, he imprisoned
his mother as well. She prays to Shaka for deliverance and the Buddha is so moved by
her plight that he appears before her and shows her the paradises of the ten directions,
from which she chooses the Western paradise of Amida.
On the right is the mandala of the Court of the Thirteen Meditational Concentrations,
detailing the various wonders of the Western Paradise, which Ideiki must visualize to attain
rebirth there. At the bottom band are the meditations on
the three levels of rebirth in the Western Paradise, and each of these three levels are
subdivided into three degrees. Thus, along the bottom there are representations of nine
different types of raigō. Two types of raigō paintings developed in
the late 12th and 13th c. One is the haya, or swift, raigō in which Amida and his host
of bodhisattvas descend to earth in the twinkling of an eye. The other is yamagoshi, or mountain-crossing,
raigō, in which only depicts three figures, Amida, Kannon, and Seishi, above the range
of mountains, which they will cross to complete their descent on earth. A classic example of the haya raigō is the
hanging scroll in Chionin. Entering the image at a diagonal from the top left, Amida and
his host of attendants descend from the heavens on wisps of clouds. The procession is led
by Kannon, who is kneeling towards the deceased man. The man, who is dressed in a monk’s
robe, is sitting behind a low table. In the lower left corner of the painting are green
mountains dotted with pines and flowering cherry trees, and in the upper right there
is a glimpse of a tiny building suggesting Amida’s many storied palace in the Western
Paradise. A famous yamagoshi raigō is the painting
in Zenrinji. The golden head and torso of Amida can be seen glowing against a dark sky,
his halo suggesting the moon. Below him to the right and left are Kannon and Seishi,
who have already crossed the mountain and are bending forward to greet the deceased.
The lower center of the painting can be seen as the blue water of a river, and opposite
each other on its banks, two boys are pointing up at the divinities. To the right and left
at the sides of the painting, the Shitennoo (or four heavenly kings) are grouped in pairs.
FInally, in the upper-left corner is the Sanskrit character for the first syllable of Amida’s
name. The mounties are dotted with small trees of orange and red leaves of the fall. Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t
said much about Shinto art. In fact, I’ve only mentioned Shinto architecture thus far.
Prior to the second half of the Nara period, kami imagery belonged to an aniconic tradition.
Aniconism, meaning without idols or images, usually had symbolic or suggestive rather
than literal representation. For example, something like a mirror can stand in for the
presence of the deity, rather than giving a deity a human form.
During the Nara period, there were efforts to create a harmonious relationship between
Japan’s ancestral and natural kami and the new teachings of Buddhism and its pantheon
of celestial entities. In the mid 8th c, the sun goddess Amaterasu was consulted, via her
shrine at Ise, and her response was that she and Birushana were simple emanations of one
another – creating a process for the two belief systems to meld during the Heian and Kamakura
periods. With the strong tradition of Buddhist sculpture
during the heian period, it became common to give kami a human form in the style of
Buddhist entities. These three small wooden sculptures are of a Yasumigaoka Triad: a monk
flanked by two female figures in court costume. Carved out of a single block of wood, it is
simple, but elegant – an aesthetic that would be maintained among Shinto sculptural imagery
over the centuries. Architecture of Shinto shrines also changed
during this time. The simple fencing of the Ise and Izumo shrines were replaced by roofed
and corridors cloister walls, in addition to numerous subsidiary buildings for monks
and treasures. Many summer festivals, such as the Gion, were
to propitiate Shinto kami in the hopes that they would save the population from pestilence,
earthquake and warfare. While shrines associated with imperial cults declined from the 14th
to 16th centuries, other kami cults, particularly ones that protected communities or had some
influence over natural events, received great reverence from the common man, as that given
to Pure Land Buddhism. Kitano Tenjin was an entirely new kami created
during the Heian period, who continued to grow in popularity among even those at court,
the samurai and the populace. The Kitano Tenjin engi emaki is a scroll that tells the story
behind the founding of his Kitano Shrine in kyoto. Sugawara no Michizane was a leading poet and
scholar of Chinese language, but he was exiled though the plotting of the Fujiwara, and died
in disgrace. According to the beliefs at that time, the soul of a person who died falsely
accused becomes an angry spirit, or onryō – causing deaths and accidents in their revenge.
To appease his spirit in 923, he was posthumously appointed Minister of the Right, but it was
believed that his spirit took the form of the God of Thunder. In 947, a shrine, Kitano
Tenmanguu was built in Kyoto in his honor. Finally, he was accorded the designation of
tenjin, or heavenly deity, and became regarded as the patron god of learning, literature
and calligraphy. Today, students facing an important examination visits a Kitano shrine
and prays to Michizane. During the Kamakura period, Mandala paintings
of Shinto shrines also became very popular. The most typical of Shinto mandala images
is that of the Kasuga Shrine, which is the family shrine of the Fujiwara. This Kasuga Deer Mandala features a large
white deer, manifested on a cloud above the torii gate to the compound of the Kasuga Shrine.
From its saddle rises a branch of the sakaki tree, which is framed behind the image of
a mirror. Standing each on a branch are the five Kasuga kami, depicted in their Buddhist
forms as Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The mirror is a reference to Amaterasu, who was coaxed
out of her cave with a mirror. The deer is often considered sacred within
Japan. From a Buddhist perspective, the Buddha gave his first sermon in a deer park in northern
India. However the deer was considered sacred even before the arrival of Buddhism in Japan. Thanks so much for watching this video! I’m
doing a whole series on Japanese art – everything from prehistoric to Heian period; modern Japan
to contemporary art and pop culture. Besure to subscribe to catch them all! Special thanks to our patreon supporter, I
really appreciate your contributions. If you like Little Art Talks and want to help us
keep making great new videos, you can check out Patreon.com/LittleArtTalks. Also, new endscreen. Past Karin didn’t do
that great of a job at planning how many videos she wanted, and how to break up all of these
time periods. So there are a few extras that originally were going to go together, but
now, they are separated. And now I have a new endscreen so you can actually see all
the videos. Knowing my luck, it will probably be further updated in the future, and that
will just be a thing. Anyways, thanks so much for watching, I hope you enjoyed it. Please
like and subscribe if you enjoyed it – it really helps this channel out. And I’ll
see you guys next time!

17 Replies to “Kamakura Period | Japanese Art History | Little Art Talks”

  1. The girl, who fell in love with the Buddhist monk, turned out to be a dragon reminded me of the famous story of "Musume Dojoji (Anchin & Kiyohime)" though the outcome is very different. "Musume Dojoji" is very famous & popular kabuki story, but there is the animated version by one & only Kihachiro kawamoto on youtube. Check it out!

  2. Loved these videos. I had art classes in college and unfortunately none of them covered any of this fascinating history <3

  3. To make this videos you are using the same book by Penelope Mason we use at my university in Venice. Btw the videos are really well done, and really helpful for preparig the exam, keep up w/ the good work:)

  4. This is really nice! I'm looking forward to looking through more of your videos, and I plan on introducing them to my students.

  5. Outstanding vid – there's really not a lot of decent Kamakura art content, sadly, but ths is great.

  6. Anybody out there know anybody or an expert that can help me on my painting it's from the Kamakura period it was found wrapped in a scroll contact my page if anybody out there that can help me

  7. Samurai rising is a really good book to read if you’re trying to learn more about the war aspect of the Kamakura period. It’s about the fight for power between the Minamoto and the tiara, specifically it is about a samurai from the Minamoto (yotshisune).

  8. You don't know how helpful are your videos! I'm studying Japanese studies but in german and you resume it so well! thank you very much for sharing! 🙂

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