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Amusements at Higashiyama in Kyoto
by Kano School
ca. 1620s
Purchase, 2013 Benefit Fund and
Mary and James G. Wallach Foundation Gift, 2014

2014.491.1, .2
Episode 3 / 2015

This masterpiece of Kano
school painting conveys the celebratory spirit of a country finally at peace after nearly
a century of civil war..."


This exceedingly rare example of an early seventeenth-century pair of Japanese genre screens depicts some 300 people from all walks of life enjoying a sunny afternoon at the peak of the cherry-blossom season in Kyoto’s scenic Eastern Hills, or Higashiyama district. The right and left screens each highlight a famous sacred site—Kiyomizudera Temple and Yasaka Shrine respectively—and each features a festive outdoor banquet attended by elite samurai. The screens, which belonged to a private museum in Kyoto for many years, survive in remarkably fine condition considering their age, with intricately patterned gold clouds creating a dramatic background for the colorful genre scenes and cherry and pine trees. Though the pair of six-panel folding screens is of relatively small size (each less than three feet high and just over eight feet wide), they are covered throughout with fascinating vignettes of people of every social status—while samurai are the central protagonists, courtiers and court ladies, itinerant performers, and mendicant monks make a showing. This masterpiece of Kano school painting conveys the celebratory spirit of a country finally at peace after nearly a century of civil war.

The subsequent demand for paintings of leisure activities signalled that the capital of Kyoto was once again a vibrant center of economic, political, and cultural progress. Though the types of scenes depicted differ, this kind of painting can be seen as an equivalent to Western “genre painting,” as applied to certain Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century. Japanese genre painting of this variety was short lived; by the end of the century, it had been succeeded by the popular art of ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world).

John Carpenter
Curator
Department of Asian Art
Curator interview
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