Royal Visit to Ōhara, from The Tale of the Heike

Studio of Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died ca. 1640)

Edo period (1615–1868)
first half of the 17th century
Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on paper
Image (each screen): 63 7/16 x 143 5/16 in. (161.1 x 364 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1955
Accession Number:
55.94.3, .4
  • Description

    The painting illustrates the epilogue of The Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari), a historical novel of the mid-thirteenth century describing the meteoric rise and calamitous fall of the mighty Taira clan (the Heike). In this epic narrative, battles and brave deeds are interspersed with accounts of tragic love. This episode describes the visit of the retired emperor Go-Shirakawa to a mountain refuge in Ōhara, to which the Heike leader Kiyomori’s daughter—mother of the infant Emperor Antoku—had fled after the clan’s annihilation. Go-Shirakawa arrives at the lady’s hermitage in late spring dressed as a Buddhist monk. He waits as the lady herself, now a nun, returns with her companion after gathering azaleas in the mountains.

    The round red seal reading “Taiseiken,” generally thought to have been used by Sōtatsu and his studio, can be seen at the extreme lower corner of each screen. Strong traces of Sōtatsu’s influence are discernible, particularly in the use of the mottled-ink (tarashikomi) technique and in the shapes of the houses, trees, and rocks. The portrayal of human figures likewise reveals that the artist was familiar with the types of figures that Sōtatsu had copied from various handscroll paintings. The composition is thus like a collage, as groups of figures and even buildings were copied from different sources and then combined.