Locating 'China' in the arts of sixteenth-century Japan

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Even as Japanese armies marched on Ming China in the late sixteenth century, the artefacts of ancient China continued to elicit the esteem of Japanese elites, including the warrior-ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98). In many of these artefacts a given location constituted the theme. This essay comprises three interconnected case studies of China-related paintings and ceramics that demonstrate a concerted effort by Japanese of the Momoyama period (1568-1615) to claim Chinese antiquity as part of their cultural heritage. Japanese patrons and artists achieved this by adapting Chinese models of stylized or semi-abstract landscape representation and, more dramatically, by physically and conceptually transforming original Chinese objects. Antique Chinese paintings of Chinese place were dismembered and remounted in Japan so as to function better in Japanese contexts. In a practice that highlighted location while eschewing the pictorial, aesthetic arbiters awarded old Chinese ceramic vessels poetic names related to Japanese places (a custom common in chanoyu, the tea ceremony), thus conceptually relocating the objects from China to Japan. In present-day art-historical practice these objects are not normally studied together. That practice, however, distorts pre-modern realities, as, during the period in question, the Japanese used the objects en ensemble as they searched for, and at times reworked, the relevances of ancient China for Momoyama Japan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)600-624
Number of pages25
JournalArt History
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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