In the history of Japanese illustrated scrolls, those created in and after the latter part of the Middle Ages have long been held in lower esteem than their highly artistic counterparts produced, under the generous patronage of hjgh society, in the Heian and Kamakura periods.
The end-of-the Middle Ages and after, however, saw rapid development in various performing arts, including Noh dance-drama, Kyogen comic drama and Jorurinarrative chanting, as well as swift popularization of Otogi Zoshi and other stories based on a wide range of anecdotal tales and old folklore. All such arts and stories enjoyed a remarkably wide audience among all strata of Japanese society, ranging from the bluest of bluebloods to the commonest of common people. Picture books and scrolls highlighting such arts and stories made successive debut, and their wild acceptance by all kinds of Japanese people, further spurred their development and refinement.
Members of the well-known art schools of the time, including Kano and Tosa, were of course responsible for many such picture books and scrolls. However, a number of ambitious, though nameless, painters having no school affiliations also turned out a hugh number of picture books and scrolls. One of the most brilliant of such artists was lwasa Matabei, creator of the Okuri – Illustrated Scrolls of Oguri Hangan and other tours de force in the early Edo period, and so was the nameless painter of the Illustrated Scrolls of Shutendoji the Ogre,a work of exquisite beauty and extraordinary attention to details produced most probably at the request of some daimyo lord.
Comprising some of the most representative works of the early pre-modern period, the current exhibition attempts to shed light on the development of pre-modern illustrated scrolls, which came into being and enjoyed immense popularity in close relationship with the spreading of popular literature and performing arts. It is our most sincere hope that the viewers will fully savor the inimitable flavor of the tales and stories of this period through a variety of illustrational pictures on display in the current exhibition.