Naozane sitting on a horse after his conversion to Pure Land Buddhism

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    A priest, identifiable from the rosary beads clutched in his hand, sits backwards on a horse. This is a picture of Renshōbō (Kumagai Naozane), a famous warrior who fought valiantly in many of the decisive battles of the Heiji wars of the twelfth century on the side of the Minamoto clan. He is usually shown in one of two guises: as a determined warrior in full armour astride a charging horse and waving a war fan, or like this, after his conversion to Pure Land Buddhism. Legend has it that Nobuzane chose to enter religious life when he was called upon to kill the son of his enemy, a boy who looked very much like his own son and shared the same birthday [Hiroshi Kitagawa and Bruce T. Tsuchida, transl.,The Tale of the Heike (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1977). 561-3]. Other accounts say that it was after he heard the words of the saint Hōnen, whose disciple he became. Wanting to face the Western Paradise, Renshōbō sat on a horse backwards as he came along the Tōkaidō road.

    The inscription is by Gyokuju, a chief priest of the Daikoin subtemple of Kyoto’s Bukkōji temple. Gyokuju himself was known to paint landscapes and figural subjects [ Araki, Tadashi, ed., Dai Nihon shoga meika taikan, vol. 1 (Tokyo: Daiichi Shob, 1975), 423]. He took the words of Nikkei Hōrin (1693-1741), a scholar of the Jodo shinshū faith and fourth head teacher at Nishihonganji temple in Kyoto [for Hōrin,see Kokushi daijiten henshū iinkai, ed., Kokushi daijiten vol. 12 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōunkan, 1984). 679]. The painting was probably done on the anniversary of Hōrin’s death, the Western Paradise being a reference to death and rebirth. The inscription is read unusually from left to right, the same direction that the priest faces:

    It is a pity that my wilful nature is as stubborn as a large lodestone,
    Today, this hidden nature [is to be found by] facing the Western Paradise

    Eulogy by Master Nikkei Hōrin
    written by Gyokuju at age seventy-five.
    [ My thanks again to Dr Cary Liu for the translation].

    Ganryō was the adopted son of Kishi Ganku, the founder of the Kishi school of painting. The Kishi school can be regarded as an offshoot of the Maruyama/Shijō manner with more energetic brushwork. Ganryō came into the service of Prince Arisugawa and the Imperial Court, positions he inherited from Ganku. Ganryō continued Ganku's use of agitated, short strokes to great effect. Among his known paintings are Cranes in the Sun and Carp among Rapids, a pair of two-fold screens in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet in Paris [paintings of Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris, Japanese Art in Foreign Collections vol. 6, 95].

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 38 on pp. 140-141, p. 85, illus. p. 141

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