Deploying the Sacred Arts in Momoyama Japan
Winner of the 2006 John Whitney Hall Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies
Chikubushima, a sacred island north of the ancient capital of Kyoto, attracted the attention of Japan’s rulers in the Momoyama period (1568-1615) and became a repository of their art, including a lavishly decorated building dedicated to the worship of Benzaiten. In this meticulous and lucid study, Andrew Watsky keenly illustrates how private belief and political ambition influenced artistic production at the intersection of institutional Buddhism and Shinto during this tumultuous period of rapid and radical political, social, and aesthetic changes. He offers substantial conclusions not only about this specific site, but also, more broadly, about the nature of art production in Japan and how perceptions of the sacred shaped the concerns and actions of the secular rulers.
The patrons of the island included the dominant political figures of the time: the late sixteenth-century ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) who supported numerous projects at the apogee of his power and his heir Hideyori (1593-1615), as well as their rival and eventual successor to national hegemony, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). After Hideyoshi’s death, the Toyotomi clan struggled to retain their power and sought new opportunities to position themselves as chief conduits of divine protection and beneficence for the realm. They enacted and signified this role by zealous, indefatigable sponsorship of sacred architecture and its ornament, icons, and rituals.
In the early seventeenth century, the Toyotomi clan sponsored a major refurbishing of the Benzaiten Hall on Chikubushima, transporting a highly ornamented structure from Kyoto to be installed as its core. Enveloped in polychrome paintings by the Kano workshop (the leading painting studio of the period), black-and-gold lacquer, gilt metalwork, and pictorial relief wood carvings, this core is the most complete ensemble of ornament and architecture surviving from the Momoyama period. Watsky has had unique access to the island, and many of the images included here have not previously been published.
About the Author
"Like the Momoyama-era building that it studies, this elegant, compelling monograph should become an enduring monument..Through Watsky's meticulous work, Momoyama architecture and 'decorative arts' acquire dimension and texture that cast new light on the material production of the entire epoch."—Journal of Asian Studies
"Andrew M. Watsky's eloquently written study of the island shrine of Chikubushima in Lake Biwa opens a new window on the history and culture of pre—modern Japan. What appears at first glance to be a detective story uncovering how the main hall of that shrine came to take the unusual shape it assumed early in the 17th century turns out on closer scrutiny to be an examination of the intricate relationship linking art, religion, and politics in Momoyama Japan. This is a book art historians, political historians, and scholars of religion will all learn from."—John Whitney Hall Book Prize Committee, 2006
"Chikubushima addresses, in refreshingly original ways, the central problems of how Momoyama art is understood and interpreted and, in so doing, raises more global issues for the discipline of art history in general. This is a superb study executed with style and verve."—Mimi Hall Yiengpruksawan, Yale University
"Chikubushima significantly enhances our understanding of a major sixteenth—century monument and of the importance its Toyotomi patrons attributed to ‘laying claim to the sacred realm.’ It offers a richly textured and evocative picture of the leading personalities, places, and cultural developments of a pivotal era in the history of modern Japan."—Christine Guth, author of The Art of Edo Japan
"I used [Chikubushima] as a text for a course on Momoyama—Edo art. It is so rich, and it feeds off into so many fertile directions, that it serves as a wonderful touchstone for a plethora of important issues. These include religious praxis; the interpenetration of sacred and secular; the magical force of 'assemblage;' nuanced exposition on the profundity of place; architectural protocols; representations of the city; festivals; and tea. Students loved it. I recommend it highly for this purpose. We sorely need more books of this nature, scholarly, absorbing, and readable."—Melinda Takeuchi, Professor of Japanese Art, Stanford University
Other Titles by Andrew M. Watsky
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