When Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the early 13th century from China, it radically transformed Japanese religious practice and visual culture. Rather than focusing on the study of written scripture, Zen Buddhism stressed the "mind to mind" transmission of the Buddha's wisdom through direct master-disciple encounters. Zen emphasizes "emptiness," rejects binary distinctions between enlightenment and non-enlightenment and between self and other, and advocates meditation and the rigorous study of koans (paradoxical statements) to allow the mind to break free of conventional modes of thinking. Though it is a system of thought that insists on the emptiness of all form, painting and calligraphy became a critical part of practice for Zen monks and scholars. Painting with ink in the traditional East Asian mode is unforgiving: a mark made in the moment cannot be erased or reworked. Zen practitioners favored ink for its capacity to capture in perpetuity a moment of spontaneous spiritual intuition.
Seasonal celebrations have been a popular subject in Japanese painting since the Heian period (794–1185). Elite cultural practices of Heian court society slowly filtered into the lives of the general populace, and by the Edo period (1615–1868) a popular and highly visual culture of festivals and seasonal observances flourished. The paintings in this gallery reflect both the role these observances played in people’s lives, as well as the importance of the display of paintings in the celebration of seasonal festivals.
The Zhou was a powerful state in the region of modern-day Shaanxi province in northern China. It came to power after overthrowing the area’s Shang rulers in the mid-11th century BCE. In an effort to establish its cultural legitimacy, the Zhou adopted its predecessors’ religious rites; the result was the uninterrupted manufacture of the kinds of ritual bronze vessels and jade implements that had been the sacred tomb furnishings of the Shang elite.... Read more about Arts of Ancient China, from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age