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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Tōji Screen and the Historiography of Yamato-e
by Yang, Yan, Ph.D., Yale University, 2015, 229; 10013080
Abstract (Summary)

The past is interpreted through modern lenses, but that reality is often hidden. In the case of Japanese art history, the Heian period (794-1185) is celebrated as a time of isolation, refinement, and elegance, filled with poetic sensitivity and aesthetic glory. A notable example of an art historical achievement from that time is the Tōji Kyūzō Senzui Byōbu or the Tōji screen. Literally, "a landscape screen formerly owned by the temple Tōji", this six-panel folding screen is one of the oldest screens in Japanese art history and the only survivor from the Heian period. Recognized as a national treasure, the Tōji screen is noted for its ostensibly Chinese subject as well as for its Japanese landscape. As a work that combines Chinese and Japanese elements, scholars often use it to illustrate the historical development of Japanese art known as yamato-e. Literally, "Japanese pictures," yamato-e is considered as the pictorial manifestation of the emerging Japanese identity during the Heian period as the Japanese declared their independence from centuries of continental influences to discover their own values in art and literature. The concept of yamato-e occupies a central position in art history as it represents the beginning of painting that was uniquely Japanese.

However, I will show in this project that our current understanding of the Tōji screen as a work that shows Chinese and Japanese artistic elements, and the patriotic significance behind the concept of yamato-e do not come from the 11th century Heian period, but from the 20th century Showa period. Through a critical examination of modern scholarship about the Tōji screen, I reveal the problematic notion of "China" and its association with the pictorial program of the Tōji screen by tracing, how the screen has been described in the past century. By surveying 20 th century research that define yamato-e, I reveal that the amalgamation of conflicting definitions that currently exist for this concept come from scholarly conventions and oversights in the past century. In doing so, I expose some of the pitfalls of studying premodern objects and concepts through the mediation of previous modern scholarship.

This dissertation consists of an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion. In the introduction, I present the Tōji screen and the concept of yamato-e as they are conventionally understood today in order to highlight the vague definitions and descriptions that currently exist. In Chapter One, I address the relationship between the Tōji screen and factors that led to its current association with the concept of kara-e , or "Chinese painting." However, I will show the concept of "China" is complex and inappropriate as a description for the screen. In Chapter Two, I survey the scholarship that establishes the provenance and purpose of the Tōji screen in order to highlight the importance of nomenclature in research and its far-reaching consequences. In Chapter Three, I outline the historical designation of the Tōji screen as an example of yamato-e, kara-e, a combination of both and as neither yamato-e nor kara-e to show the fickle relationship between the screen and these fundamental concepts in Japanese art history in order to underscore our problematic understanding of the concept of yamato-e . In Chapter Four, I survey the historical formation and development of the concept of yamato-e in 20th century writings to answer why the notion of yamato-e is confusing and contradictory despite its fundamental importance in Japanese art history. In my conclusion, I highlight the need to recognize the strong impact modern scholarship has had on our understanding of the premodern, in order for us to make new discoveries about the past.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Yiengpruksawan, Mimi
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 77/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian Studies, Art history
Keywords: Historiography, Japanese Art, Kara-e, Senzui Byobu, Toji, Yamato-e
Publication Number: 10013080
ISBN: 978-1-339-47835-7
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