The Battle at Ichinotani, Scenes from The Tale of the Heike
Edo period (1615–1868)
One of a pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper
68 3/4 x 133 1/4 in. (174.6 x 338.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1989
Not on view
The victory of the Minamoto over the Taira, which left the samurai class in power in Japan for more than seven centuries, was assured by this battle fought off the shores of western Japan in the second month of the year 1184. Around the Minamoto stronghold at Ichinotani, scores of warriors are shown in the dramatic confrontations recounted in the ninth section of the Heike monogatari. In the middle of the two left panels is the poignant encounter between the young Taira Atsumori, fleeing on horseback into the water, and the veteran Genji warrior Kumagai Naozane, who rides toward shore, war fan in hand, calling the young man to return to fight. The tragic denouement, so well known it goes undepicted here, underscores the Buddhist theme of the saga: Naozane, discovering that his foe is only a youth who reminds him of his own son, would spare him were it not for the arrival of his fellow warriors on the scene. Accepting the inevitable bitterness of a warrior's duty, he takes the boy's life, but subsequently renounces the world to become a monk.
The compositional device of pairing highly detailed figure painting and a strong overall surface design mirrors the structure of the ballads from which these episodes were taken. In both oral and visual traditions, there is a delicate balance struck between colorful individual action and the larger forces of fate. These screens were acquired separately; the two were reunited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1989. (One of a pair; see 60.40)