Battles of Ichinotani and Yashima, a pair of 6-fold screen paintings
Edo period, early 17th century AD
By an artist of the Kanō school
This pair of six-fold screens shows scenes from the two final battles of the Gempei Wars, Ichinotani (right) and Yashima (left). The Gempei Wars (1182-85) were fought between the Taira (or Heike) and Minamoto clans. The Minamoto were victorious, and Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-99) became the first shogun (military dictator) of Japan.
For over four centuries after the event the campaign was retold as an oral epic, Heike monogatari ('Tale of the Heike'), which was chanted by blind players of the biwa (lute). It was first recorded in written form in 1371. The Tale is told from the Taira point of view, lamenting their tragic rise and fall; hence the opening sentence with its strong Buddhist feeling: 'The bell of the Gion Temple tolls into every man's heart to warn him that all is vanity and evanescence' (translation by H. Kitagawa and B.T. Tsuchida).
This pair of screens was painted nearly 500 years after the events themselves, during the early Edo period (1600-1868). They may have been intended to demonstrate how the recently established Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868) claimed their authority to rule from the precedent of the earlier Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333). The paintings follow the text of Tale of the Heike so faithfully that with close examination, it is possible to identify particular events and individual warriors. In fact, labels bearing the names of the warriors were stuck on later, though not all accurately.
On the Ichitani screen the attack of the Minamoto troops, charging down through the Hiyodori Pass led by Minamoto no Yoshitsune is particularly dramatic. At Yashima a conspicuous place is given to the famous story of Nasu no Yoichi, the Minamoto warrior who took up the challenge to shoot at a fan on one of the distant Taira boats.
I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)
L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)
Height: 1554.000 mm
Width: 3738.000 mm (each)
Height: 1554.000 mm
Asia JA JP ADD324 (1950.11-11.022);Asia JA JP ADD325 (1950.11-11.023)
Gift of the Trustees of James Martin White