Biohistory journal, Winter, 2004
Research: Index > The four seasons deputed in Yamato-e
Art in Biohistory (Living creatures in Japanese culture)
The four seasons deputed in Yamato-e
    Science has been defined as depicting nature in numbers, but living things are depicted by words and icons, which include pictures, video, and photographs. Let's see the living things drawn into Japanese pictures. We can discover the situation of an understanding about the living things in Japanese culture.

    Japanese paintings had been heavily influenced by Chinese art since ancient times. In contrast to this Japanese paintings of the Chinese style (kara-e), the so-called Yamato-e, created during the Heian era, a period when the indigenous culture predominated, took uniquely Japanese items as their subject matter. Many artists painted scenes of friendly living things and immediate nature.
    One example is the Hamamatsu-zu folding screen.
Hamamatu-zu byoubu (Pine grove by the seashore)
A pair of six-fold screens / Color on paper/ height 106.0cm width 312.5cm (each)
/ Muromachi period/ 16 century/ Tokyo National Museum /

    Living things which still inhabit Japan are drawn in it, such as 20 types of plants, one type of butterfly, 20 types of small birds, horses, and people. The transitions through the four seasons are depicted from right to left. Let's see the foreground. The new willow shoots in the spring, violets and dandelions bloom, and sparrows breed a baby bird during summer. Japanese pampas grass and the field of a bush clover wave by autumn wind, and Japanese white-eye stay each other. The arrival of winter is heralded by powder snow. Let's see a distant view. People are drawn with the pine grove of the seashore. People are catching fish with seine nets or are hunting by riding on a horse.

    This painting, which incorporates scenes of nature in the four seasons and the daily life of the people, expresses a life lived in close proximity to living things throughout the year with activities that are repeated year after year. Such a Japanese's feeling drawen in pictures called a Shikikacho-zu(figure of Birds and flowers of the four seasons), and makes it succeed for a long time. And we sense the philos for living things there. A life of people in nature, and philos to living things became the foundation of the natural history and the sketching drawing which are in fashion at the next Edo period.

(Naoko Kitaji)

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