History of Art and Architecture

Sara Sumpter Talk


Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

An Ill Wind That Blows No Good? A Reinterpretation of the Depiction of Abe no Nakamaro in the Kibi Daijin Nittô Emaki Scroll

Asian Studies Center Asia Over Lunch Series

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

In the late-twelfth-century handscroll Kibi Daijin Nittô emaki, the vengeful spirit of Abe no Nakamaro (701-770) appears in demonic form on a viciously wind-swept night. Despite this ominous entry into the tale, Nakamaro does not kill the main character-the Japanese envoy Kibi no Makibi (695-775)-and instead agrees to help him return home to Japan. The generally accepted hypothesis about this handscroll is that its two protagonists represent the rival clans of Kamo and Abe on'yôdô (yin-yang mastery), with the Kamo clan shown as ascendant over the Abe clan through the depiction of Kibi no Makibi as the more powerful of the two characters. This evaluation assumes that Abe no Nakamaro is merely a tool of Kibi's, ignoring the possibility that Nakamaro is actually a powerful figure in his own right, whose assistance is integral to Kibi's success, and that his depiction either stems from heretofore unconsidered social factors or represents a different power dynamic between the Abe and Kamo clans than has been previously asserted.