Yamato-e: An Online Guide to Classical Japanese Style Painting

Classical Japanese painting has always been mesmerizing in effect and charming in character. The word “e” means picture or painting in Japanese language. Yamato-e is a kind of Japanese painting that got its inspiration from Zen Buddhism. The later Heian period was the heyday of development of this kind of painting.

The influence of literature is clearly visible in these kinds of paintings. As you will find almost all Yamato-e paintings have a written text along with the main pictures. These pictures often show the beauty of nature or depict beautiful palaces or delineate four seasons of nature.

Among all kinds of Japanese paintings Yamato-e is the oldest. The term was derived from the ancient name given for Nara area. By the 6th century the earliest Japanese emperors established Yamato in the court. The history dates back to 9th century when it first recorded the use of Yamato-e paintings; usually the people of those period used scrolled paintings called ‘byoubu’.

This style of Japanese painting is markedly different from Chinese style painting called kara-e. Although Yamato-e was opposed to Chinese kara-e the painting style these two arch-rivals followed was the same. The composition is striking, the use of flat planes of rich color, frequent use of codified pictorial devices like fukinuki yatai.

Yamato-e had a great and lasting influence on the Rimpa and ukiyo-e styles of painting. It continued to influence in the Meiji period and in the 20th century too it wielded great influence on nihonga type of painting.

Some of the great artists of Yamato-e were Shubun, Josetsu etc. This class of painting was solely meant for the aristocrat people of Japan. Today also you have to pay a huge amount of money to possess one piece of artwork.


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