Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, copper, gold, and gold leaf on paper
Image (each): 61 5/16 in. × 11 ft. 5/16 in. (155.8 × 336 cm) Overall (each): 67 5/8 in. × 11 ft. 6 9/16 in. (171.8 × 352 cm)
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Not on view
With their contrasts of large dramatic forms and brilliant metallic shimmer, these screens represent the zenith of the decorative style of the late sixteenth century. Under a moonlit sky, a golden bridge creates a strong diagonal from the right screen to the left. Above the bridge, a glowing moon made of copper and attached to the screen by small pegs bears witness to the dramatic scene. A large waterwheel turns in the stream and four stone-filled baskets protect the embankments. Gently lapping waves of silver paint are tarnished with age. Paintings combining willows, a bridge, and a waterwheel immediately evoke the famous bridge over the Uji River in southeast Kyoto, a scenic view long celebrated by Japanese artists and poets.
Under a moonlit sky, a golden bridge sweeps upward in a strong diagonal from the right screen to the left, spanning a view of water, rocks, and trees. Three willows at the right, middle, and left hint at the changing seasons; the small, delicate leaves on the trees at the right and center are signs of spring, while the fuller, longer leaves at the left suggest summer. Beyond the bridge, the glowing moon—made of copper and attached to the screen by small pegs—evokes the clear skies of autumn. A large waterwheel turns in the stream, and four stone-filled baskets (three on the left screen and one on the right) protect the embankments. The irregularly shaped clouds are formed of tiny square pieces of gold leaf pasted onto a gold ground; the gently lapping silver waves are tarnished with age. With their contrasts of large dramatic forms and brilliant metallic shimmer, the Burke screens represent the zenith of the Momoyama decorative style.
The paintings immediately evoke the image of the bridge over the Uji River in southeast Kyoto, a scenic view that has been immortalized over the centuries by many Japanese artists and poets. Originating in Lake Biwa, the river runs south across the southern outskirts of Kyoto and eventually empties into Osaka Bay. Its history as a famous scenic spot (meisho) extends back to the late eighth century, when its beauty was celebrated in the Man'yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves). Uji is also significant in that it was represented in Japanese paintings at a time when kara -e (Chinese-style painting) was still dominant. A screen depicting the Uji River in autumn, with crimson maple leaves caught by fishing baskets in the water, is described in literary sources as having been installed at the beginning of the ninth century in the Seiryōden, the living quarters of the Imperial Palace, and from that time forward it was an established part of palace interiors. The painting is often cited as one of the first signs that yamato-e (Japanese-style painting) had encroached upon the kara-e tradition Throughout the tenth century the scenery of Uji, usually with autumnal imagery, was represented on screens, which are now known only through the poems that they inspired. Often the imagery made only oblique reference to the river, most often by the presence of maple leaves and fishing baskets.
The iconography of the Uji theme as represented in the Burke screens has a long history; it began with the simplest symbolic allusions and various other elements were added over the years. Although no visual image of the Uji theme from before the fourteenth century survives, a rich store of literary references helps us to reconstruct its iconographic evolution.
A broad bridge, the essential element in the later iconography, is believed to have been constructed at Uji in 646; the several battles that were later fought in the area enriched its historical associations. Beginning in the eleventh century, waterwheels for irrigation are frequently mentioned, as are baskets filled with stones for water control and for the protection of the riverbanks. About the year 1010, Lady Murasaki chose Uji as the setting for the last ten chapters of the Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), and a new element derived from that text—boats carrying brushwood—made its appearance in the iconography.
About a half century later, the imagery associated with Uji was further enhanced by the addition of Byōdōin, originally the summer estate of the Fujiwara nobleman Yorimichi, who converted it, in 1052, into a Buddhist monastery dedicated to Amida Buddha. A small fan painting, formerly in the Sasama collection, Tokyo, and dated to the late fifteenth century, is the oldest known illustration of Uji to include Byōdōin. Inscribed on the fan was a poem by Ranpa Keishi (d. 1501), who referred not only to boats carrying brushwood but to a scene of cloth bleaching, an industry believed to have begun at Uji in 1286. Willow trees were added to the iconography sometime before 1369, when a young retainer in a ceremonial procession to Byōdōin was described as wearing a robe that had on the right sleeve a design of the bridge and on the left a waterwheel, and possibly willows as well.
The earliest extant example of Uji imagery is the fourteenth-century Ishiyamadera engi emaki (Illustrated History of Ishiyamadera). There, Uji is the setting for a miraculous Buddhist tale in which the bridge, waterwheel, and a boat carrying brushwood are represented. The Uji theme seems to have gone through one more stage before it evolved into the decorative composition exemplified by the Burke screens. This penultimate stage is well illustrated by two screens—each the right screen of a pair—one in the Yabumoto collection, Osaka, the other in the Tokyo National Museum. The bridge is shown in both works, but the composition is now dominated by seasonal references. In the Tokyo screen, for example, the hot sun of spring and summer blazes fiercely above the blossoming cherry trees and young willows.
A standard iconography for Uji screen representations seems to have been established by the late sixteenth century. By this time, too, the genre had received a name: Ujibashi byōbu (Screens of the Uji Bridge).
That Uji screens remained popular in the early seventeenth century is indicated by their depiction in the Hōkoku Festival screens painted by Kano Naizen in 1606 (fig. 39, on page 190). The composition was repeated many times into the early Edo period, with only minor variations in detail and quality. At least two versions bear the seals of Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610), another the seal of his reputed son, Sōya. Although the present pair of screens bear neither seal nor signature, it is possible that they were painted by a member of the Hasegawa school.
A recent interpretation of the theme—according to which Uji Bridge represents a link to the Buddhist paradise—is ingenious but unlikely, as no other Momoyama-period decorative screens have strong Buddhist overtones. More evident than Buddhist symbolism are the reverberations of historical events and literary allusions. In the end, the setting lost its specific association with Uji Bridge and was reconstituted as an anonymous place, seen through the changing seasons of the year.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 For a summary in English of the various interpretations of this theme, see M. Takeuchi 1995, pp. 30–53; for a detailed discussion of the theme, see also Asahi Misako 1984, pp. 35–78; Adachi Keiko 1990, pp. 7–22; and Takeuchi Misako 1990, pts. 1, 2.  Man'yōshū 1981.  lenaga Saburō 1966b, pp. 29, 72.  Ibid., p. 73.  For a chronological compilation of literary records, see Adachi Keiko 1990, pp. 7–22; and Takeuchi Misako 1990, pt. 1, pp. 22, 28.  See Murasaki Shikibu 1976, pp. 751ff.  Narazaki Muneshige 1962, fig. 26.  Miyajima Shin'ichi 1980.  Komatsu Shigemi 1978a, scroll v, pp. 66–69.  Tokyo National Museum 1989b, nos. 39, 14.  A reference to Ujibashi byōbu is found in an entry for the eighth month of the twentieth year of the Tenshō era (1592), in the Tamon’in nikki (Chronicle of Tamon'in); see Tamon'in nikki 1967.  Takeda Tsuneo 1980a, pls. 15, 16.  Furuta Shōkin 1988, pp. 18–23.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
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