On some characteristics of Japanese traditional portraits known as Nise-e (likeness picture)

Third Thursday Lectures
Friday 17 Feb 2017 | 6 PM

Weston Room, Cathedral Hostry
Norwich NR1 4DH

Tetsuei Tsuda
Head of Archives Section, Department of Art Research, Archives and Information System Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties

About the lecture

This lecture will explore the production and characteristics of portrait paintings made in pre-modern period Japan through a medieval period hand scroll entitled Ichiryu sôsho keizu (portrait scroll of a certain Buddhist school’s lineage).

Ichiryu sôsho keizu scroll is a hand scroll containing portraits owned by and pertaining to the lineage history of Bukko-ji temple, which is a key Jôdo-shinshû temple in Kyoto.

The scroll begins with details related to its production. In it, it states that the teachings of Shinran (1173-1262), who founded the Jôdo-shinshû School, continue to flourish despite sixty years after his death. It also notes that the figures depicted are of individuals who were alive at the time of the scroll’s production, and that the intent was to create a link for future followers to reaffirm their ties and commitment to the school.

According to the inscribed date, it is clear that the scroll was produced in May 1325. The first set of portraits that appear after the text are of a couple who was the sect leaders, followed by around twenty men and women of all ages. The sitters were commoners and new portraits were added intermittently over the following periods until up to around the middle of the fourteenth century.

Each of the painted individuals’ face is skillfully articulated using very fine brush work. In comparison, their costume, body representation and composition are extremely typological. Until recently, Ichiryu sôsho keizu was considered substandard to be recognized as portraits because of the stereotypical representation of people below the neck. However, accurately depicting the sitters’ face in delicate outlines while providing them with a standardised body is the very feature of a style of Japanese portraits called nise-e (likeness picture). It can be said that the Ichiryu sôsho keizu presents the essence of Japanese nise-e and their characteristic.

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About the speaker

Tetsuei Tsuda is the head of archives in the Department of Art Research at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. After completing his post graduate work at Keio University, he joined Kanazawa Bunko Museum in Kanagawa prefecture as curator in 1991. In 1999, he was appointed as researcher at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. He was awarded with a doctorate from Keio University after submitting his thesis on the study of Heian period esoteric Buddhist sculptural trends and characteristics.

His particular field of interest is in Japanese Buddhist art (paintings and sculptures). His research is not limited to the study of art objects, but also expands into the fields of medieval Japanese religious studies and Japanese literature.

About the Third Thursday Lecture Series

Every Third Thursday of the month, the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures hosts a lecture on a topic related to the art and culture of Japan. Talks begin at 6pm (50-minute lecture followed by refreshments). Speakers are all specialists in their field and the talks are intended to be accessible to those with no prior knowledge of Japanese history.

The lecture are normally held at the Weston Room, Cathedral Hostry, Norwich NR1 4DH. The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, Yakult and the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust.


Admission is free and all are welcome. Booking essential.
To book your seat, please go to the booking form or email the Sainsbury Institute

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Future Lectures

16 March 2017 | Dr Lauri Kitsnik
Robert & Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures
In a Lively Place: Spaces of Japanese Scriptwriting

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20 April 2017 | Dr Matthew Shores
Lecturer in Japanese Studies, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
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Third Thursday Lectures is a monthly lecture series supported by