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
Sacred scriptures that contain the teachings of the Buddha are known as sutras. The Lotus Sutra stands out among the many hundreds of sutras as arguably the most popular and best known of all Buddhist scriptures in East Asia. Originally composed in Idia in the first century CE, the Lotus Sutra reached Japan by the late sixthy century.
In 1603, the new shogun moved the capital from the imperial city of Kyoto to Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the east. This change also led to the removal of the monopolistic Kano School of painters from Kyoto to Edo. The Kano specialized in large-scale ink-and-polychrome paintings on gold, and their substantial academic lineage was carefully maintained through a system of teaching strictly by copying from painting manuals. ... Read more about Maruyama-Shijō Painting from the Feinberg Collection
For more than a thousand years, the most admired works of art in China and Korea have reflected a deep appreciation of nature. While the subjects of East Asian secular paintings are diverse—landscapes, flora and fauna, figural representations, and narrative scenes—landscape paintings have been given pride of place. ... Read more about Mountains and Water: Landscape Paintings from China and Korea
“Nanga” literally translates as “Southern painting.” It is the Japanese rendering of the original Chinese term used to refer to intentionally unpolished amateur painting. In China these paintings were produced by scholar-gentlemen (Ch. wenren; Jp. bunjin) who shied away from politics and commerce to immerse themselves in mastering classical literature, calligraphy, music, painting, poetry, and philosophy, and to cultivate deep friendships. The paintings they produced aimed not at re-creating a superficial visual likeness, but at capturing the very essence of a subject.... Read more about Nanga Painting from the Feinberg Collection
By 1750, the city of Edo, known today as Tokyo, was one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of more than a million. Its inhabitants lived within a tightly regulated class system that favored the ruling warrior class and relegated merchants to a position just above outcast. Almost every aspect of daily life, from occupation and residence to the items of clothing a person could wear, was dictated by these class divisions. Nevertheless, radical imbalances developed as merchants accrued financial wealth inaccessible to the ruling class. In response, vibrant theater and red-light districts emerged, providing outlets from the regulated austerity of everyday life in the capital.... Read more about Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e from the Feinberg Collection
For more than a thousand years the most admired works of art in China and Korea have reflected a deep appreciation of nature. The subjects of East Asian secular paintings are diverse, ranging from landscapes to flora and fauna, figures, and narrative scenes. Among these, landscape paintings have claimed pride of place.... Read more about Chinese and Korean Landscape Paintings