Pair of six–panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on paper; Each 60 15/16 in. x 11 ft. 8 in. (154.8 x 355.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.4–5)
The two civil wars that occurred in the Hogen and Heiji eras took place in 1156 and 1160. The fighting lasted only a few days in each case, and it involved only a handful of politically eminent figures of the Heike (also known as the Taira) and Genji (also known as the Minamoto) clans. Yet, historically speaking, these are two of the most memorable insurrections of medieval Japan; they signaled the collapse of an old world order and the coming of a new era. Bloodcurdling incidents of these two wars, mixed with romantic interludes, became the basis for the first historical war novel of Japan, the Hogen monogatari (Tale of the Hogen Incident). The Hogen monogatari focuses on the decline of the once supremely powerful Fujiwara aristocrats and the rise of the two military families, the Genji and the Heike. The Heiji monogatari, on the other hand, describes the jealousy and inevitable conflicts between these two warrior clans, as well as the temporary defeat of the Minamoto family.
The Museum's screens are the oldest extant examples that represent both the Hogen and Heiji wars. The dark greens, browns, and blues of the landscape, sharply contrasted against scattered clouds of brilliant gold, create colorful and decorative effects. The entire city of Kyoto, where the major military actions took place, is viewed from above, in a vast panorama. Mountains, rivers, houses, and hundreds of men and women emerge from behind the scalloped gold clouds. The most important military actions are depicted in the central areas of both screens, while the prologues and epilogues of the battles are scattered at the edges. There is no chronological sequence in the arrangement of episodes. The city and its suburbs seem to have been laid out first, with the historical episodes later fitted into every nook and corner of mountains, city streets, and buildings. Warriors swarm around palatial buildings or are engaged in fierce battles on the streets and riverbanks. These short-necked, stout soldiers have large heads with thick lips and strong jaws, revealing the uncouth but strong character befitting their station in life as men of action. Their faces, sharply tapered ankles, and exaggerated expressions and gestures closely resemble features that appear in the Heiji scrolls of the Kamakura period (11851333). Clearly, the anonymous creator of these screens was deeply indebted to an earlier tradition of war pictures. However, such elements as interior scenes, with their miniature opulent screen panels in the Momoyama decorative style, reveal that the artist was also very much affected by contemporaneous artistic trends.