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Kitano tenjin engi ('Origins of the Kitano Tenjin shrine'), a 6-fold screen painting

 

Height: 1323.000 mm
Width: 3452.000 mm

Arthur Morrison Collection
Gift of Sir W. Gwynne-Evans, Bt.

Asia JA JP 1256 (1913.5-1.0275)

    Kitano tenjin engi ('Origins of the Kitano Tenjin shrine'), a 6-fold screen painting

    Japan
    Early Edo period, mid-late 17th century AD

    According to legend, in the second lunar month of AD 903 the exiled scholar and courtier Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) met with a violent death. There followed a series of disasters in the capital Kyoto. This screen depicts the vengeful Michizane returning as the Thunder God, Raijin, and striking the Seiryōden hall of the Imperial Palace with lightning.

    To the far right a willow tree bends under the force of the wind, and the demon-like Raijin descends in a swirling black cloud. In each hand he holds a drumstick, but his customary ring of drums (with which he produces thunder) is reduced to two abstracted circles. In contrast to Raijin and the ink washes of the cloud are the resolute figure of Fujiwara no Tokihira and the sharp, precise lines of the architecture. Tokihira had been falsely accused of stirring up the rumours that led to Michizane's exile, and while his two companions flee or cling to the building in terror, he stands defiant. The painting captures a moment of action, as he draws his sword from its scabbard and stares resolutely up at the god.

    This kind of close-up composition of a mythic or historical scene, often derived from a section of a medieval handscroll, was popular in early modern times among several schools of painting. Two slips of paper attached to the back of this screen attribute it to Tawaraya Sōtatsu (flourished 1600-40). However, on stylistic grounds this seems unlikely, and an attribution to an artist working in the Yamato-e tradition is suggested instead.

    I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)

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