- Museum number
Painting, six-panel screen. Battle of Ichinotani from the wars between the Taira and the Minamoto clans. Ink, colours and gold leaf on paper. Pair with JP Add 325 (Battle of Yashima).
- Production date
Height: 155.40 centimetres
Width: 373.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
平家の栄華と没落を語る「平家物語」は、成立以来琵琶法師を通して人々に親しまれてきた。中世の遺品は数少ないが、江戸時代以降、合戦に主眼を置いた豪華な金屏風が多々描かれたらしく、現時点で20例に近い屏風の作例が報告されている（平家物語に関わる合戦図屏風の分類•展開については下記を参照。川本桂子「『平家物語』に取材した合戦屏風の諸相とその成立について」『日本屏風絵集成 第5巻 大和絵系人物』1979年 講談社 [。] 田沢裕賀「平家物語一の谷•屋島合戦図屏風の諸相と展開」『秘蔵日本美術大観-大英博物館1』1992年 講談社）。江戸という太平の時代、過去の合戦を追体験するためであろうか、合戦を美化し華麗に描く大画面が広く求められたことは興味深い。
Smith et al 1990
Two of the last decisive battles of the Taira-Minamoto Civil Wars are here depicted in brilliant detail with a formidable sense of spatial organisation, much aided by the traditional gold clouds which allow the different sections to be either separated or linked by implication. Ichinotani (1184) and Yashima (1185) were both victories of Japan's greatest hero, Yoshitsune, on behalf of his brother, Yoritomo, head of the Minamoto family (no. 41). Yoshitsune afterwards fell out with Yoritomo and was hounded by him to suicide, but he remained a popular hero and his stories were constantly told in chronicles, plays and songs. References to these particular wars were encouraged in the Edo period, probably because the Edo shoguns traced their descent and legitimacy back to Yoritomo's appointment as Shogun. These works, of course, were painted nearly 500 years after the events themselves, but the traditions of warfare of the earlier period were handed down with surprising accuracy. The paintings are likely to be the work of an independent town-artist.
The detail shown is the final assault on the Yashima fortress, following Yoshitsune's surprise descent from the mountains.
Yamane, Yuzo (ed.), "Nihon byobu-e shusei", vol. 5 'Jimbutsuga - Yamato-e kei jimbutsu', Tokyo, 1979.
Bowes, James L., 'Handbook to the Bowes Museum of Japanese Art Work, Liverpool', Liverpool, 1890, pp. 27-8.
Yamane, Yuzo (ed.), "Nihon byobu-e shusei", vol. 5 'Jimbutsuga - Yamato-e kei jimbutsu, Tokyo, 1979, nos 105-6.
Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 1
"The bell of the Gion Temple tolls into every man's heart to warn him that all is vanity and evanescence" (from the H. Kitagawa and B.T. Tsuchida translation, 1975). So begins 'The Tale of the Heike', one of the best-known works in all Japanese literature. This pair of six-fold screens depicts two scenes from this literary masterpiece: the Battle of Ichinotani from Book Nine and the Battle of Yashima from Book Eleven.
Given the great love that has been accorded this book for centuries, one would imagine that many different kinds of paintings of 'The Tale of the Heike' would have survived. Unfortunately, extant works from the Muromachi period or earlier are scarce; works known collectively as 'Battle Scenes from the Tale of the Heike', dating from the end of the Muromachi period through the early part of the Edo period, on the other hand, do survive. These are generally pairs of screens, with each screen illustrating anecdotes about one particular individual. In this work, the right-hand screen depicts the Battle of Ichinotani and that on the left the Battle of Yashima, both shown from fairly low angles. This viewpoint enables us to focus on the anecdotes of individual warriors. Here the screens hold so strictly to the original literary work that the alert viewer can almost pick out each samurai by name. This, in fact, made it possible for a later generation to affix the small name tags that we can still see today (although these include a few mistakes).
A great number of works depicting battles between the Minamoto and Taira clans survive, many of which are based on copies. As we can observe in the present work, the same figure appears in different settings, with little loss of the scene's basic meaning from repeated copying.
Viewers today may well just see this painting as a single moment in a large-scale battle captured from a point located somewhere above the action, but in fact it depicts a variety of scenes from different time frames, spanning the entire series of battles between these two clans.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 13 Jun-7 Oct, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2011 Feb - June, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2016 Oct - 2017 Apr, London, BM, Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Heike monogatari 平家物語 (Tale of the Heike)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Purchased by James White at the Bowes Sale, Branch & Leete, May 1901 (lot 1782). Described in the Handbook to the Bowes Museum (1890), p. 28.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.324 (Japanese Painting Additional Number)