Horse Race at the Kamo Shrine in Kyōto (賀茂競馬図屏風)

 

Six-panel folding screen 

Tosa school artist

Edo period (1615-1868), 1665-1690

Ink, mineral colours with gold leaf

H 93 cm x W 284 cm

 

An immense amount of figures, engaged in a bewildering array of activities, is gathered at the Kamo Shrine in Kyōto for the annual horse race held on 5th of May, traditional Boys’ Day.

 

During the Heian period (794-1185) this ritual was one of the classic aristocratic events. It was then temporarily stopped, only to be revived after the Ōnin war (1467-1477, fought around Kyōto between two important families headed by Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Mochitoyo), when it became a greatly popular annual event.

 

The entire population seems to have turned out, which is readily apparent in the assorted diversions and revelries spread out across these resplendent byōbu.

 

The race unrolls on the two screens. Here the painter’s genius for depicting engaging crowd scenes, a characteristics of Heian pictorial compositions, emerges in full force.

 

The crowd scenes are brilliantly depicted in the typical Tosa school style. The range of the crowd’s attitudes, the detailed textile patterns of the kimono are astonishing.

 

The screen was probably executed by studio-trained but anonymous master of the yamato-e genre painting favoured by the Tosa school in Kyōto. The scale of the painting and the quality of the materials used in their execution indicate that they were commissioned by a sophisticated, wealthy patron.

 

One of the few known screens of a similar quality can be seen in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, even though Japanese scholars (among them the chief curator of the Suntory Museum of Art in Tōkyō) maintain that maybe one panel (the right one) of the two panel screen “At the Shrine gate” in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is a part of the Cleveland screens, while the left hand side panel can be connected to the “Gion Festival” screen in the Suntory Museum of Art.