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Edo Period

Updated on January 25, 2013


Edo (modern Tokyo) became the capital under the Tokugawa shogunate which encouraged the construction of many religious buildings. Their own mausoleums at Nikko (1634-36) are the culmination of opulent display in Japanese art.

They comprise a series of shrines, temples, pagodas, libraries, drum and bell towers and gates which mix elements of Shinto and Buddhist architecture. Vast labor resources were required to build them. The entrance portico is decorated with a profusion of relief figures of people nestling among the bracketing and fantastic animals surmounting it. Elsewhere the buildings are adorned with enamel, gilding, and arabesque and heraldic motifs.

Great developments occurred in domestic architecture and the masterpiece of the period is a residential structure, Katsura Imperial Villa at Kyoto (1590-1636).

Built in the Sukiya style, a refinement of the shoin style incorporating the teahouse aesthetic, this elegant group of buildings and gardens embodies a sense of harmonious proportion and a feeling for natural materials which are essentially Japanese. The rise of a wealthy bourgeoisie, while giving great impetus to the figurative arts, also tended to assign to them a merely decorative role. This was particularly true of the sculpture produced during the Edo period which was confined almost entirely to ornamental carving on a small scale as in netsuke (toggles) and inro (medicine cases).

The Kano school became official painters to the Shogun, producing monochromes and Sumi works of technical brilliance but little originality. Sotatsu (1576-1643) and Ogato Korin (1658-1716) were two artists who developed from the traditional Yamato painting an indigenous style characterized by its qualities of decorativeness and bold abstraction.

Ukiyoe, though it had its origins in traditional genre painting, was radically new in that it depicted the life of the common people. Hishikawa Moronobu (circa 1618 to circa 1694), its leading exponent, was also responsible for elevating the wood block print to the status of an art form. Western art began to influence the Japanese painters of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and in some cases striking syntheses were achieved, as in the work of Hiroshige (1797-1858), Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utamaro (1753-1806).


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    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      9 years ago from Australia

      I really enjoyed this article, and look forward to reading your other ones.


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