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Matthew P. McKelway

Publication Year: 2006

Following the destruction of Kyoto during the civil wars of the late fifteenth century, large-scale panoramic paintings of the city began to emerge. These enormous and intricately detailed depictions of the ancient imperial capital were unprecedented in the history of Japanese painting and remain unmatched as representations of urban life in any artistic tradition. Capitalscapes, the first book-length study of the Kyoto screens, examines their inception in the sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries, focusing on the political motivations that sparked their creation. Close readings of the Kyoto screens reveal that they were initially commissioned by or for members of the Ashikaga shogunate and that urban panoramas reflecting the interests of both prevailing and moribund political elites were created to underscore the legitimacy of the newly ascendant Tokugawa regime. Matthew McKelway’s analysis of the screens exposes their creators’ masterful exploitation of ostensibly accurate depictions to convey politically biased images of Japan’s capital. His overarching methodology combines a historical approach, which considers the paintings in light of contemporary reports (diaries, chronicles, ritual accounts), with a thematic one, isolating individual motifs, deciphering their visual language, and comparing them with depictions in other works. McKelway’s combined approach allows him to argue that the Kyoto screens were conceived and perpetuated as a painting genre that conveyed specific political meanings to viewers even as it provided textured details of city life. Students and scholars of Japanese art will find this lavishly illustrated work especially valuable for its insights into the cityscape painting genre, while those interested in urban and political history will appreciate its bold exploration of Kyoto’s past and the city’s late-medieval martial elite.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

I have benefited immeasurably from the help, encouragement, and inspiration of many people in completing this book. My first thanks go to Miyeko Murase and Takeo and Itsuko Atsumi, professor emerita, who brought me to graduate studies in art history at Columbia University and instilled in me a desire to question long-held ideas about Japanese painting. I would also...

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Note to the Reader

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pp. xiii

Terminology for designating historical periods in Japan is fraught with the basic problems of applying Western terminology to a non-Western history. The passage of the roughly 150 years between 1500 and 1650 that this book covers was defined in Kyoto, by the imperial court, in different ways, including the succession of six...

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Chapter One: A Most Marvelous Thing

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pp. 1-11

On a chilly day late in the winter of the third year of Eishō (1506), Great Minister of the Center Sanjōnishi Sanetaka (1455–1537) received a visit from his first cousin and close friend, Middle Counsellor Kanroji Motonaga (1457–1527). A frequent visitor to...

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Chapter Two: A Formal and Conceptual Guide to rakuchū rakugai zu

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pp. 12-45

In 1994 the Kyoto National Museum held Miyako no sugata, the first major exhibition of Kyoto screens since 1965, almost thirty years after the landmark exhibition organized by Takeda Tsuneo for the same museum. As I witnessed modern- day citizens of Kyoto crowded into the galleries to gaze at the sixty-odd pairs of screens on display, I overheard...

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Chapter Three: The Sanjō Screens

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pp. 46-97

The oldest existing rakuchū rakugai zu was painted sometime in the second quarter of the sixteenth century, roughly a generation after the painting Sanjōnishi Sanetaka describes in 1506. This pair of screens, now kept in the National Museum of Japanese History, is variously...

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Chapter Four: The Uesugi Screens

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pp. 98-142

The most famous of all rakuchū rakugai zu was recently given to Yonezawa City by the Uesugi family, the clan who once ruled Echigo and the Yonezawa domain and who had owned the painting for more than four centuries (see plates 1a – b).1 This pair of screens, while similar to the Sanjō screens in many ways, includes far more people (2,485) and buildings than the earlier pair and presents...

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Chapter Five: Populating the Screens

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pp. 143-163

Among the thousands of figures that fill the Kyoto screens, some stand out as different from all the others, even if not at first glance. Although they occupy no more space than any others, the particular ways in which the artists of the screens depict them, from their faces and clothing to their placement within the compositions, have occasionally...

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Chapter Six: The Azuchi Screens and Images of Castles

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pp. 164-177

The fourth quarter of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century saw the unification of Japan’s warring provinces through the military conquests of three great military hegemons: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. This era, called Azuchi-Momoyama after the sites of the fortresses of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi, also witnessed dazzling...

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Chapter Seven: Return to Kyoto: Rakuchū rakugai zu after the Tokugawa Unification

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pp. 178-200

The final unification of Japan by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the beginning of the seventeenth century presents another instance where historical development coincides with a major change in the representation of Kyoto in painting. The late-sixteenth-century screens of Azuchi and Hizen Nagoya portrayed new castle-towns of a form and substance without precedent, necessitating new modes...

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pp. 201-213

How, and when, if ever, did the genre of Kyoto screens come to an end? The proliferation of Kyoto screens in the Edo period was closely paralleled, or echoed, by the hundreds of city-view prints, maps, and illustrated guidebooks that were ushered in by the popularization of printed media in the seventeenth century. Gazetteers...


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pp. 215-235


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pp. 237-261

Sources Cited

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pp. 263-269

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 271-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861773
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829001

Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Screen painting, Japanese -- Japan -- Kyoto -- Kamakura-Momoyama periods, 1185-1600.
  • Kyoto (Japan) -- In art.
  • Art and society -- Japan -- Kyoto.
  • Screen painting, Japanese -- Japan -- Kyoto -- Edo period, 1600-1868.
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