Depictions of the Journey to the Heavenly Realm in Early Modern Catholic and Japanese Buddhist Iconography

in Religion and the Arts
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This article works to identify an intersection of the Catholic and Buddhist pictorial traditions with regard to the symbolism of the journey to the spiritual world. In both Christian and Buddhist traditions, the river/ ocean is a popular symbol that designates the border between this world and the other world. A work of western-inspired Japanese folding screens known as Yōjin Sōgakuzu (Europeans Playing Music) is an outstanding example that makes use of the symbolism of the river to allude to one’s pilgrimage to the other world in the guise of a secular waterfront scene. The folding screens were painted in the seventeenth century by Japanese artists who were affiliated with the art studio founded by the Jesuits. An investigation of European sources of the painting will show how the painters modified the famous Catholic iconography of “The Ship of the Church” to match the taste of the Japanese patrons of the time. Further, comparisons with other Japanese paintings that similarly deal with the theme of the river will show that such secular scenes of waterfront leisure could demonstrate to the Japanese audience the life in the world beyond, as well as a journey to that world they anticipated.



  • Figure 1a

    Europeans Playing Music, six-panel folding screen, early seventeenth century. Ink and colors on paper, 93 × 302 cm each. MOA Museum of Art, Shizuoka, Japan.Courtesy of the MOA Museum

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  • Figure 1b
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  • Figure 2a

    Europeans Playing Music, six-panel folding screen, seventeenth century. Ink and colors on paper, 93 × 302 cm. Eisei Bunko Museum, Tokyo.Courtesy of the Eisei Bunko

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  • Figure 2b
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  • Figure 3

    Music screen, detail (MOA Version)Courtesy of the MOA Museum

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  • Figure 4

    Typus Religionis, reproduction of original painting, 1783. Etching, 44.5 × 81.5 cm. British Museum, London.Courtesy of the British Museum

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  • Figure 5

    Kano Hideyori, Takao Kanpuzu, six-panel folding screen, mid-seventeenth century. Ink and colors on paper, 150 × 365 cm. Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo.Courtesy TNM Image Archives

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  • Figure 6

    Niga Byakudozu, 13th century(?), hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 116.8 × 62.9 cm.Kosetsu Museum of Art, Hyogo (Courtesy of the Kosetsu Museum of Art

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