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Japanese Painting Styles and Their Development

Japanese art can be acclaimed as having its unique style and special spirit inspiring by its sophistication and fineness which can be hardly confused with anything else in the world. Japan is especially known for its three styles of painting which are yamato-e, sumi-e, and ukiyo-e. These styles developed as a result of a special vision of the world common for Japanese people who are known for their devotion and tender affection to nature and its beauty. This tendency of Japanese mentality is very well seen in the paintings accomplished in the above mentioned styles.

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Speaking about yamato-e style, its development and its main peculiarities, it should be mentioned that it is the first style peculiar for Japanese nature admiring the way of thinking developed by Japanese artisans themselves without any other influence from behind. In the early eleventh century the first well known Japanese novel Tale of Genji was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. This novel was dedicated to courtly life description. The book was published on special scrolls called makimono, and had a very special design. The main feature of this design became the book’s illustrations. Each chapter was initiated with a picture of scenes seen from overhead depicting the ruled court life. These illustrations presented a sophisticated outlook on royal nobility and its surrounding figures. The illustrations were accomplished in the style later called yamato-e which became the first properly Japanese style of painting.

With regards to sumi-e style of art and calligraphy, it should be said that this style is different from yamato-e in many ways. The main of these differences are in the style’s connection to the neighboring culture of China. This style developed in the ninth century CE as a result of growing popularity of Daoism philosophy while the rule of great Chinese dynasty of Tang. Sumi-e style has its indicative feature of being accomplished in ink, and what is most peculiar in ink of black color only. The leading painter of this style in Japan was Sesshu. He is acclaimed internationally for his depicting of landscapes being inspired by the ideas of Zen meditation.

Discussing ukiyo-e style, it is important to address its outstanding traditions which are considered to be Japanese art’s “carte-de-visite” even nowadays after more than four hundred years ago from the period of its initial origination and florescence. Ukiyo-e style developed in the seventeenth century among the middle-class citizens, and had its numerous distinctive peculiarities contrasting it with the styles of the other periods mainly developed by the nobles from high class. The word ukiyo-e in itself can be explained as “pictures of a floating world” or the world which is passing away. The pictures of this period were distinguished by their abundance of themes from surrounding world and daily life of common Japanese people including urban scenes with their pleasures such as geisha courtesans and kabuki dance drama stage plays. The main painters of this style are Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige. This style of art is also peculiar for its being affected by the ideas of European artists in the later period of nineteenth century, and thus lacking some originality of Japanese culture in the later period.

All in all, Japanese art can be described as especially permeated with the spirit of love and devotion to nature and its beauty. This special tendency can be seen in the most broad-ranging pieces of art from varied periods. Paintings from yamato-e, sumi-e, and ukiyo-e styles also reveal a lot of interesting details about Japanese way of thinking, and especially about its moving affection for nature’s glory and inspiring philosophic ideas.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Japanese Painting Styles and Their Development." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/japanese-painting-styles-and-their-development/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Japanese Painting Styles and Their Development'. 3 January.

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