History of Art and Architecture

Jungeun Lee and Sara Sumpter Colloquium


Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

The Power of Owning Exclusive Knowledge: The Socio-political Significance of Secrecy in Ashikaga Shogunal Art Manuals

Jungeun Lee, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

Constellation: Visual Knowledge

Japanese illustrated art manuals, which provide information on how to properly arrange the shogunal collections, have not only enjoyed significant status as curatorial icons of Japanese taste but have also received great scholarly attention. Most studies, however, deal with the contents as a primary source for examining shogunal art objects and their connections to China. In contrast to these previous studies, this presentation examines the issue of secrecy, which is mainly discussed in religious circles in medieval Japan, in conjunction with secular art arrangements. By focusing on the fact that the shoguanl art manuals were compiled as secret texts (hisho), this talk explores the meaning of restrictive access in the manuals.

To investigate this issue, my analysis concentrates on one particular art manual Okazarisho, which was made in 1573 by Sōami, a cultural advisor (dōbōshu) working for both Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) and Ashikaga Yoshitane (1466-1523). The text (postscript) of Okazarisho features a clear statement stating that it may be accessed only by the shogun. By analyzing both the visual and textual information in Okazarisho as well as the socio-political circumstances of the time period, this talk suggests how owning exclusive knowledge relates to Ashikaga Yoshitane and his socio-political authority and adds to the recent discussion of secrecy in medieval Japan.


Sites of Encounter: The Ban Dainagon Ekotoba and the Representation of Liminal Spaces in Early Medieval Japan

Sara Sumpter, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

Constellation: Environment, Agency

In 1177, the Ôtenmon Gate burned to the ground in a fire. After this, retired sovereign Go-Shirakawa (1127-92; r.1155-58) commissioned the Ban Dainagon ekotoba, which narrates the story of how Tomo no Yoshio (811-868) set fire to this same gate in 866 to frame a rival. In the twelfth-and-thirteenth-century setsuwa (folktale) collections, encounters with supernatural phenomena are regularly depicted as occurring in spaces that mark boundaries, such as gates and bridges. As scholars have noted, supernatural entities often function as metaphors for “the other” or the hazardous. It therefore stands to reason that they would be associated with places perceived to be liminal. Through a comprehensive analysis of handscrolls and textual sources from the early medieval period, this paper will explore how liminal spaces like gates were conceptualized in early-medieval Japanese art and culture and how that concept impacted the commissioning of the Ban Dainagon ekotoba.