We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Last Tosa

Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei, Bridge to Ukiyo-e

Sandy Kita

Publication Year: 1999

Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei (1578-1650) is one of the most controversial figures in Japanese art history. For more than half a century, historians have argued over Matabei's role in Japanese art: Was he, as he asserted, "The Last Tosa" (the school of painters who specialized in Yamato-e, a kind of classical courtly painting) or, as others characterized him, "The Founder of Ukiyo-e," the style of painting associated with the urban commoner class. In this highly original and convincing study, Matabei emerges as both--an artist in whose work can be seen elements of both Yamato-e and Ukiyo-e.

Extending its analysis beyond the individual artist, The Last Tosa examines the trends and artistic developments of a transitional period and makes heretofore unexamined connections between the world of the aristocrat and the merchant as well as the two artistic schools that reflected their tastes. It addresses these larger issues by identifying Matabei as a member of a social group known as machishu. Excerpts from noblemen's diaries, an investigation of the etymology of machishu, and an analysis of art by its members, indicate that machishu included both commoners and gentry, thus revealing a rich tradition of egalitarianism--an important departure from the conventionally held belief that seventeenth-century Japan's urban society was rigidly stratified.

The Last Tosa provides an exhaustive study of Matabei's paintings, including all his important works and key attributions. Translations of all documents available on Matabei are given, in particular his travel diary, a unique source, the only known example of such a text by a seventeeth-century classical painter. With its fusion of cultural history with political, social, and economic history, this sophisticated study will appeal to not only art historians, but also to students of history, anthropology, and culture studies interested in questions of group identity and the political uses of culture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.9 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (46.4 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (57.6 KB)
pp. ix-xii

I first heard of Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei in 1972 when Donald Jenkins, then ccurator of Asian art at the Art Institute of Chicago, showed me a set of two cuntitled, undated, and unsigned handscrolls. I discovered that these paintings illustrated the Tale of Lady Jōruri (Jōruri hime monogatari), the popular story ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.6 KB)
pp. 1-10

Who was the enigmatic Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei (1578–1650)?1 Some, including him, say he was an aristocratic Kyoto painter. Others aver that he was a lowly commoner artist from Edo (now Tokyo). An inscription on a painting by Yosa Buson (1716–1783) rhapsodizes: ...

Part I The Problem

read more

1 The Learned Gentleman

pdf iconDownload PDF (618.0 KB)
pp. 13-38

Until now, Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei has been generally regarded in Japan as a “man of mystery” (nazo no jinbutsu), a status similar to that of the woodblockprint designer Sharaku (fl. 1794–1795), Zen ink painter Shūbun, and scores of other Japanese artists. Categorizing an artist as a man of mystery ...

read more

2 A Gentleman of Low Repute

pdf iconDownload PDF (920.3 KB)
pp. 39-73

If Matabei saw himself as a learned gentleman, he has, nonetheless, had the reputation .of being the founder of Ukiyo-e back nearly to his own time. To those who associated .Matabei with Ukiyo-e, this art was the chic and fashionable, popular and earthy, and coarse and vulgar art of the commoners of Edo. ...

read more

3 Commoner Style

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.5 MB)
pp. 74-126

This book began by recounting how Matabei presented himself in his painted self-portrait and his written diary as a courtly, classical artist of Yamato-e, the self-proclaimed last Tosa. Next, it reported on how history perceived Matabei as the founder of Ukiyo-e and how that perception of him continues to affect ...

read more

4 Courtly Subject Matter

pdf iconDownload PDF (147.6 KB)
pp. 127-138

Just as there are elements in the style of Matabei that confirm his reputation as the founder of Ukiyo-e, so too the subject matter of his art supports his identification of himself as a refined, elegant, and learned gentleman. Of course, Matabei would have known that, as the son of the warlord Araki, ...

Part II Matabei as Machishu

read more

5 The Many Faces of the Machishu

pdf iconDownload PDF (166.3 KB)
pp. 141-160

The machishu whom Matabei knew were an elite. By his time, which was late in the history of the machishu, they counted among their number some of the most prominent individuals of their day. Yet one of their most outstanding features as a group was their egalitarianism, for the machishu cut across class lines ...

read more

6 Defining Matabei, 1578–1615

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.2 KB)
pp. 161-169

Was Matabei a machishu? We have already seen how close he was to Sōtatsu, whom Yamane identifies as an “upper class machishu, friend of Kōetsu.”1 More, Mizuo and Hayashiya both feature Sōtatsu prominently in their discussion of the art world of the machishu,2 and Minamoto has stated of Sōtatsu’s art ...

read more

7 Machishu Subject Matter

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 170-210

This chapter considers five themes painted by Matabei. Because it is the subject matter of Matabei that concerns us here, and not his style, we need not confine the discussion to works with absolutely impeccable reputations for authenticity. Instead, we can concentrate on those paintings that best illustrate ...

read more

8 Style Revisited, Colorplates follow page 212

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 211-224

In the preceding chapter, we saw how Matabei drew themes important to the machishu. In chapter 6 we considered the biographical evidence identifying him with this group. Thus by now we have considerable evidence identifying Matabei with the machishu, but one problem with this identification is the understanding ...

Part III The Last Tosa as Founder of Ukiyo-e

read more

9 Echizen and Edo: Matabei’s Life, 1617–1650

pdf iconDownload PDF (128.3 KB)
pp. 227-240

We have shown how Matabei was one of the artists in the circle of the machishu. We have examined his biography, the subject matter of his paintings, and his style to establish that view of him. More than ample evidence exists by now that Matabei was, like Sōtatsu, what we may call a “machishu painter,” ...

read more

10 The Chōnin Painter

pdf iconDownload PDF (419.9 KB)
pp. 241-255

Because Matabei had changed so much by the time of his death in Edo, the question naturally arises as to whether, at the end of his life, he was the artist to the machishu that he had once been. Matabei’s glowing successes in Echizen and Edo add to the doubts concerning his continued identity as such, ...

read more

11 The Last Tosa

pdf iconDownload PDF (104.6 KB)
pp. 256-264

In this chapter we return to the issue with which this book began, that of the gap between history’s image of Matabei and his self-image. So far we have seen evidence that Matabei was a chōnin, but if that is what he became on moving to Edo, that may not have been how he saw himself. As this book has shown, ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.7 KB)
pp. 265-272

The story of Matabei comes to its end. It has been a long tale that has taken us from a consideration of the gap between his image of himself as a court painter and his reputation in history as a commoner artist, to the controversy over him, to his identfiIcation with the machishu. We have seen how linking Matabei ...

Appendix I Primary Sources

pdf iconDownload PDF (419.3 KB)
pp. 273-300

Appendix II Matabei’s Travel Diary

pdf iconDownload PDF (165.2 KB)
pp. 301-324


pdf iconDownload PDF (450.1 KB)
pp. 325-392

Character List

pdf iconDownload PDF (123.2 KB)
pp. 393-396

Selected Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.5 KB)
pp. 397-402


pdf iconDownload PDF (113.2 KB)
pp. 403-412

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.3 KB)

Sandy Kita, who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago, has long been interested in classical Japanese painting, or Yamato-e. He has published articles on specific paintings as well as on the relationship between Yamato-e and Ukiyo-e. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865689
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824818265

Publication Year: 1999