November Seminar of the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems;Updating of the Visual Arts and Iconography Led by Tokugawa Yoshimune

“Remarks of Old Paintings” Vol. 26, Portrait of Okamoto Zen’etsu (Source: Library of Tokyo University of the Arts)

 On Tuesday, November 24, the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems invited Ms. Hiroko Kato (Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) to give a presentation on her research under the title of “Updating of the Visual Arts and Iconography Led by Tokugawa Yoshimune – With a Focus on the Roles of Okamoto Zen’etsu Toyohisa.”
 Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth shogun of the Edo Shogunate (1684-1751), is well known as an innovative yet reactionary politician. Also in the field of art, he encouraged the reproduction of Chinese masterpieces painted in the Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties, while allowing the import of Dutch oil paintings. He also ordered the reproduction of old paintings possessed by feudal lords and the sketching of rare animals from abroad. One of the leading painters who reproduced such old paintings and made such sketches is Okamoto Zen’etsu Toyohisa (1689-1767), who served Yoshimune as a painter in the Doubou rank. Ms. Kato introduced the fact that approximately 270 painting examples called Funpon, which had been formerly owned by the Hikone Family as a descendant of Zen’etsu, were included in the “Pictorial Materials of the Itaya Family” possessed by the Tokyo National Museum. Based on the existence of these materials, Ms. Kato pointed out the possibility that Zen’etsu might have played an important role in leading visual arts and iconography by communicating the intention of Yoshimune to the Kano and Sumiyoshi Families known as long lines of great painters. These issues clarify Yosimune’s perspectives on paintings, suggesting that Yoshimune’s views affected the style of the Kano school later by way of Zen’etsu through the accumulated example paintings. After the presentation, there was an animated discussion over the roles of Zen’etsu and his relation with Narushima Douchiku as one of the close advisors to Yoshimune like Zen’etsu. We expect further discovery of works created by Zen’etsu, who actually produced a few paintings only.

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