Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan

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Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan is the first book-length study to focus on short-story small scrolls (ko-e), one of the most complex but visually appealing forms of early Japanese painting. Small picture scrolls emerged in Japan during the fourteenth century and were unusual in constituting approximately half the height of the narrative handscrolls that had been produced and appreciated in Japan for centuries. Melissa McCormick's history of the small scroll tells the story of its emergence and highlights its unique pictorial qualities and production contexts in ways that illuminate the larger history of Japanese narrative painting.

Small scrolls illustrated short stories of personal transformation, a new literary form suffused with an awareness of the Buddhist notion of the illusory nature of worldly desires. The most accomplished examples of the genre resulted from the collaboration of the imperial court painter Tosa Mitsunobu (active ca. 1469-1522) and the erudite Kyoto aristocrat Sanjonishi Sanetaka (1455-1537). McCormick unveils the cultural milieu and the politics of patronage through diaries, letters, and archival materials, exposing the many layers of allusion that were embedded in these scrolls, while offering close readings that articulate the artistic language developed to an extreme level of refinement. In doing so, McCormick also offers the first sustained examination in English of Tosa Mitsunobu's extensive and underappreciated body of artistic achievements.

The three scrolls that form the core of the study are A Wakeful Sleep (Utatane soshi emaki), which recounts the miraculous union of a man and a woman who had previously encountered each other only in their dreams; The Jizo Hall (Jizodo soshi emaki), which tells the story of a wayward monk who achieves enlightenment with the help of a dragon princess; and Breaking the Inkstone (Suzuriwari soshi emaki), which narrates the sacrifice of a young boy for his household servant and its tragic consequences. These three works are easily among the most artistically accomplished and sophisticated small scrolls to have survived.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

Monumenta Nipponica - Masahiko Aizawa
McCormick has demonstrated tremendous originality in interpreting the background to each individual work, and her writing brims with the spirit of an author breaking new territory.... a remarkable vision of Muromachi culture...
Journal of Japanese Studies - Donald F. McCallum
I found her combination of visual and literary analysis to be brilliant, bringing the various scrolls alive and resonant in the way the stories alone were not... This book would be a valuable additional to the libraries of all concerned with Japanese literary and visual arts.
Art Bulletin
… it is very welcome that Melissa McCormick has developed a full monograph to an early member of the bloodline-cum-atelier of the Tosa School…. Few works of Japanese art have been subjected to such close readings in English, and this … set of studies deserves to be widely used.
This book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is indispensable for any student or scholar of Japanese art, literature, and culture. Summing up: Essential.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295989020
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,313,278
  • Product dimensions: 10.30 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Melissa McCormick is professor of Japanese art and culture, Harvard University.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Note to ReadersAcknowledgments


1 A BRIEF HISTORY OF SMALL SCROLLS Fourteenth-Century ExamplesLarge Scrolls and Short NarrativesA Theory of the Short-Story Small Scroll Short-Story Small Scrolls in the Fifteenth CenturyThe Visual Language of Short-Story Small ScrollsSmall Scrolls as "Picture Books" for ChildrenSmallness in Late Medieval Culture

2 THE CULTURAL MILIEU OF SANJONISHI SANETAKA AND TOSA MITSUNOBU The Reception of Miracles of the Kasuga DeityMitsunobu, Painting Bureau Director Poetry Gatherings and Artistic ProjectsBuddhist Icons, Mortuary Portraits, and the Court ArtistMitsunobu, Sanetaka, and the Collaborative ProcessClouds of Mt. Koya: A Small Scroll by Mitsunobu and Sanetaka

3 A WAKEFUL SLEEP: PAINTING THE DREAM TALE A Muromachi Period Dream TaleReworking the Courtly Romance in Text and ImageVisualizing a Karmic BondThe Female Protagonist and the Romantic IdealA Wakeful Sleep and Aristocratic Marriage

4 THE JIZO HALL: A PICTORIAL REBIRTH The Scroll and the StoryCombinatory LogicThe Shadow ProtagonistAn Imperial Painting

5 BREAKING THE INKSTONE: AN ACOLYTE TALE FOR A YOUNG SHOGUN The Pictorial Language of Breaking the InkstoneBreaking the Inkstone as an Acolyte TaleYoshizumi and Hosokawa MasamotoMasamoto, Mountains, and MagicBreaking the Inkstone and Bonds between Men

Epilogue Appendix: Translations Notes BibliographyIllustration Credits Index

University of Washington Press

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