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Kamakura Period

Updated on January 25, 2013

1185-1333

Civil unrest, renewed contact with China and the introduction of Zen all had a marked effect on Japanese art and architecture.

In the architecture of the Kamakura period a tone of solemn austerity prevails with an emphasis on verticality.

Both religious and domestic architecture are relatively free of ornament, the houses of the military elite being constructed in a fortified style (buke-zukuri) and surrounded by stockades and ditches rather than picturesque gardens.

The 'study style' (shoin-zukuri) introduced to the palace and domicile a special room for the display of paintings, ornaments, flower arrangements and scrolls. With the adoption of the tea ceremony, special teahouses (chashitsu), simple symmetric structures free from decor and made of natural, unfinished materials, were built.

In the figurative arts, Zen caused a shift away from representation of the Buddhist pantheon and a preference for depicting incidents and persons from religious history. Sculpture particularly concentrated upon portraiture. The most outstanding work was that of Unkei (1148-1223) and his school, responsible for the two dynamic Nio (Deva kings) guarding the entrance of Todaiji.

Unkei's statue of the monk Muchaku (1208) in painted wood with its wonderfully achievements of Kamakura sculpture. The monumental bronze Buddha, Daibutsu (circa 1252), at Kotokuin, while artistically not among the finest, is certainly one of the most imposing examples of Buddhist bronze sculpture.

Yamato-e painting continued, reaching its zenith in such works as the monk's biography lppen Shonin Eden (1299) by the artist Hogen Eni. In keeping with the militarism of the period, scenes of warfare became popular, for example Heiji Monogatami, which depicts incidents from the Heiji war, while landscape, portraiture and the Sumi-e ('ink pictures') also flourished.

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