Kamakura, Muromachi (1192-1590)



Two typical window outlooks from temples in Kyoto. Polarity is now used horizontally and vertically in very complex and intermingling ways. The geometrically rectangular house and its dynamic roof provide the main vertical polarity scheme. The same is active in the horizontal dimensions contrasting the geometrical structure of the house with dynamic arrangements in the complementarily related garden in which vertical polarity (stones and bushes; cut parts of bushes and wild parts of bushes etc.) play the dominant role. The horizontal surface too is partly interpreted as place, partly in dynamic senses, using the contrast of stones and plants, or stones and dynamically alterated gravels.


Four pictures of Ryoanji, Kyoto. The pictures show spring, summer, autumn and winter. The temple shows the change of cosmic forces in their impacts on the polar patterns of rock and sea. The horizontal surface is raked in circles around the rocks.


24g Japanese are not 'nature-loving'! The bushes are cut regularly to correspond to the aesthetic principle of polarity, here rectangular and curved, at the same time alluding to the polarity of 'living' (bushes) and non-living (sand). [Tofukuji, Kyoto]


The chequer pattern of this garden design provokes nature in its growing energies to create a tension between orderly geometry and the chaotic energy of nature [Tofukuji, Kyoto]


The Katsura Palace in Kyoto is always cited as the essence of Japanese style, in contrast to the early influences from China and the corresponding great symmetries and dimensions. Japanese style! A pure Japanese expression is found. But where does this 'Japanese style' in art and architecture come from? The art historian speculates on some sort of 'will for art'. But, evidently the polarity of the strict order of construction and the contrasting order of nature is a philosophy which has deep roots in the Japanese history of form-creation.


Sh™kintei, tearoom in the Katsura palace domain. Note that the main pillar of the inner room (shinbashira) contrasts strongly with the rectangular system of the teahouse architecture.


Two paths in the imperial Katsura palace garden. Both examples express a strong tendency to complement an established order with a categorically antithetic system.


Azuchi Momoyama and Edo


(RAA LONDON 81/82)




Plumbranch in bloom painted by Gion Nankai (1677-1751). The picture shows a widespread theme, contrasting the gnared trunk of a tree at the bottom with twigs and shiny blossoms protruding upwards into space, towards the light.
Fan of Ogata Korin (1658-1716). A twig with just two flowers is placed into the void of the paper covering the bamboo structure of the fan.


Pine trees and 4 seasons by Kan™ tanÔy ž, (1602-1674). The whole background is empty, covered with gold. The trees as signs define a transition of space in front, of which the spectator is part of, and a mysterious undefined beyond. Often in Noh theatre the tree has a similar meaning.
Similarly: Pines in snow by Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795)


27e, f
Mori Sosen (1747-1821). Apes in kaki tree. Dominantly japanese style: the realism in the foreground and the non defined background. The male animal is relatively fixed and stable, the female with her baby is 'dancing' and picking fruits. Note the contrast between furs and treebark.
A very similar structure is found in this picture, showing a carp in a pond shaded by a pinetwig. The picture was painted by Matsumura Goshun (1752-1811). The twig implies earth, but is shown only partially without the corresponding tree. The view is down on the water surface, through which the carp appears realistic but as movement in water. The reflecting surface of the water melts with the empty background of the picture. It is mysterious, but clearly composed.





27g, h
Fuji mountain seen from Sattapass, painted by Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799). The picture operates with the vertical addition of sacred spaces reaching from close and realistic (below) to far and nebulous (distance).
Poems of 36 poets by Konoei Nobutada (1565-1614). The script provides a textual and verbal curtain through which the vaguely indicated landscape dialogues with the content of the text.


The narrow path by Fukae Roshž (1699-1757). This picture shows another type of horizontal threshold, yamaguchi, the 'mouth' formed by two mountains. It is usually considered as an entrance into the higher and more sacred reaches of a valley.
In this picture cherry trees in bloom form a strong (and the only) contrast with massively painted mountains. The landscape is near Yoshinoyama, the painting is made by Watanabe Shik™ (1683-1755).


27k, l
The contrast between the huge mountain scenery and the small human island at the bottom is used to show the insigificance of the human existence. The painting is made by Tani Bunchô (1763-1840). The Chinese aristocrat and his servant over the bridge become a miniature part of the setting.
Similarly this autumn landscape painted by Aoki Mokubei, (1767-1833). It shows a monumental and strongly tectonically interpreted mountain landscape. The theme is evidently influenced by Chinese painting. The human scale is extremely minimalized.


This picture too shows a sacred mountain, Mountain Asahma, painted by Aôdô Denzen (1748-1822). Evidently there is a strong Western influence, some sort of 'colour perspective', but in its contrast between foreground with human signs and the massive and pure representation of the sacred mountain, the picture remains strongly Japanese in its deeper expression.


Human figure



Shoki, the demon-chaser, was a famous and popular figure in Tang China. It is painted here by Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799). If we analyse the figure, the lower part, under the dynamic cloth, emphasises stability (triangle). The upper part shows a strong dynamism in regard to hair, eyes and arms and sword.


OsenÔs teashop by Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770). A samurai is seen stopping for a chat with the local beauty named Osen. The shrine gate indicates the threshold between everyday domain and holy space. This strongly influences the atmosphere of the scene.




27p, 28a, 28c
The picture shows a bookstand, kodaiji style (16th entury). Note that the plant ornament is completely independent from the functional geometry of the furniture.
Stand for kimono (late 16th early 17th century) with chrisanthemum decor and paulovnia emblem. Except some symmetries, the decor is independent from the structure of the furniture.
Similarly: Box for Noh texts with autumn meadow theme and calligraphy, kodaidshi style. Writings indicate the titles of the Noh plays.


Writing box with boat, reed and birds. Design from 7th century (HonÔami K™etsu). A stranded boat, reeds are growing through it, the contrast creates time and place, the latter is indicated by the swarms of encircling birds.
Writing box with wave subject made by Ogata K™rin accorrding to HonÔami K™etsu. Note how beautifully the stable, black elements are interwoven and contrasted with the dynamic structure of the waves.


Rectangular plate with bird and reedlands, ca. 1640-1650. The texture of the pottery provides the 'emptiness' for the spectator's imagination of the bird's environment.
Plate with wheel pattern early 18th century. Here too the design pattern is completely independent of the form of the object. The polar arrangement dominates. Note that even the 'rings' are kept contrasting, perfect circles one part, and 'cloudy squares' the other part. Colour and texture of the main surfaces too are contrasting. No Western artist would 'decorate' a plate in this strange way!
Pot of the so called Korean karatsu ceramic type (ash and iron are used for glazing), late 16th, early 17th century. The running glaze creates the design.





28i, k
Silkcoat for Noh theatre with coloured paulownias and gongs on turtle pattern (middle Edo period). The coat is a marvellous example of the brilliant capacity of Japanese art to combine very heterogeneous and contradictive patterns to form a harmonious unity.
Coat (Kariginu) use for Noh theatre. Gold brocade and silk, middle Edo period. The narrow body part below is constrasted with huge wings. The pattern too opposes rectangular forms with a diagonally organised dynamic pattern.


28k, l
Kimono, kosode type, made from green crepe, with plum blossoms and calligraphic signs over bamboo fence. From the viewpoint of Western fashion the kimono is a very simple construct. Four standardised strips form a flat rectangle with 'wings' hanging down from the arms. Most important is the belt (obi). It still has some sort of magical meaning. It separates and unites the human figure into an upper and lower part, the upper part being somehow dynamic, the lower part being considered as static. The textile pattern follows this categorical disposition with its dispersed flowers above and the bamboo fence below.
Similarly the very rough coat (kataginu) made of hemp used for Kyogen (the often rude and popular parts of Noh) showing bamboo, windows and twigs with plum blossoms (late Edo period). The crude mixture of extremely contrasting elements is fascinating.





Warrior helmet with horn-like elements protruding in quasi circular form (17th century). Evidently a very strong pro-portion! The 'horns' are not just impressive in the physical or 'animalistic' sense, but, being part of a system in which this type of aesthetics is closely related to the sacred, the 'horns' also provide social status.
Sword-handprotecting disk with bamboo tea stirring brush subject. Iron and brass, by Shimizu Jingo, middle of 17th century.
The same, with the subject of pines on rock by Nishigaki Kanshiro (1639-1717), iron, late 17th or early 18th century. The sword is existential for the warrior. It is clear that the zone between sword-blade and sword handle is symbolically dense. Note that not only blade and handle, but also the tea ceremony brush as well as the rock and pine symbol are all expressions of categorical polarity.




Calligraphy throughout its various styles is a clear expression of a refined type of polarity between the standard letters strictly regulated for printing and the personal capacity to interprete the sign within the limits of stroke sequence and readability.


The introduction of Western perspective



The end of all this phantastic differentiation of polarity is the introduction of the Western perspective: it means the death of a whole worldview. All is clearly defined into depth, rationally outlined, the painting becomes a mechanical stereotype.

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