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Unformatted text preview: and geography, and
carried them in ever greater numbers back to Japan. By the time of the
Taira supremacy, collections of Chinese books had become important
status symbols among upper-class Japanese. Kiyomori is said, for example, to have gone to extravagant lengths to obtain a 1,000-volume encyclopedia whose export was prohibited by the Sung. Some courtiers confided in their diaries that they had little or no personal interest in these
books but nevertheless felt constrained to acquire them for the sake of
appearances. Yet, the Chinese books brought to Japan about this time,
in the thousands and even in the tens of thousands, not only provided
the nuclei for many new libraries but motivated the Japanese to print
their own books and to a great extent stimulated and made possible the
varied and energetic scholarly activities of the coming medieval age.
One of the finest artistic achievements of the middle and late Heian
period was the evolution of a native style of essentially secular painting
that reached its apex in the narrative picture scrolls of the twelfth century. The products of this style of painting are called “Yamato [that is,
Japanese] pictures” to distinguish them from works categorized as “Chinese pictures.”
Painting in Japan from the seventh to the ninth centuries, like art in
general, had been done almost entirely in the Chinese manner. Portraits
of people, for example, showed Chinese-looking features, and even landscapes were mere imitations of noted places in China. The evolution of
Yamato pictures from the ninth century on constituted a transition from
this kind of copying to more original painting that dealt with Japanese
people in Japanese settings.
Nearly all of the early Yamato pictures were painted either on folding
screens or sliding doors. Regrettably, like the shinden mansions in which
they were kept, none has survived. Yet there are abundant descriptions
in the records of what they looked like; and in the background scenes of
some of the later narrative scrolls—for example, the twelfth-century
works based on The Tale of Genji (see fig. 27)—we can glimpse screens
and doors pictorially decorated in the...
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- Spring '13