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The Last Tosa

The Last Tosa: Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei, Bridge to Ukiyo-e

Sandy Kita
Copyright Date: 1999
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    The Last Tosa
    Book Description:

    Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei (1578-1650) is one of the most controversial figures in Japanese art history. For more than half a century, historians have argued over Matabei's role in Japanese art: Was he, as he asserted, "The Last Tosa" (the school of painters who specialized in Yamato-e, a kind of classical courtly painting) or, as others characterized him, "The Founder of Ukiyo-e," the style of painting associated with the urban commoner class. In this highly original and convincing study, Matabei emerges as both--an artist in whose work can be seen elements of both Yamato-e and Ukiyo-e.

    Extending its analysis beyond the individual artist,The Last Tosaexamines the trends and artistic developments of a transitional period and makes heretofore unexamined connections between the world of the aristocrat and the merchant as well as the two artistic schools that reflected their tastes. It addresses these larger issues by identifying Matabei as a member of a social group known asmachishu.Excerpts from noblemen's diaries, an investigation of the etymology ofmachishu,and an analysis of art by its members, indicate thatmachishuincluded both commoners and gentry, thus revealing a rich tradition of egalitarianism--an important departure from the conventionally held belief that seventeenth-century Japan's urban society was rigidly stratified.

    The Last Tosaprovides an exhaustive study of Matabei's paintings, including all his important works and key attributions. Translations of all documents available on Matabei are given, in particular his travel diary, a unique source, the only known example of such a text by a seventeeth-century classical painter. With its fusion of cultural history with political, social, and economic history, this sophisticated study will appeal to not only art historians, but also to students of history, anthropology, and culture studies interested in questions of group identity and the political uses of culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6568-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-10)

    Who was the enigmatic Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei (1578–1650)?¹ Some, including him, say he was an aristocratic Kyoto painter. Others aver that he was a lowly commoner artist from Edo (now Tokyo). An inscription on a painting by Yosa Buson (1716–1783) rhapsodizes:

    The falling cherry blossoms in the capital

    are like the peeling white paint

    in Tosa Mitsunobu’s pictures.

    I met Ukiyo Matabei

    amidst Omuro’s blossoming cherries.²

    Since Matabei was called “Ukiyo” and also proclaimed himself to be “last of the line of Tosa Mitsunobu,” most likely he is the figure prancing among the cherry blossoms, wine gourd at...

  5. Part I The Problem

    • 1 The Learned Gentleman
      (pp. 13-38)

      Until now, Iwasa Katsumochi Matabei has been generally regarded in Japan as a “man of mystery”(nazo no jinbutsu),a status similar to that of the woodblockprint designer Sharaku (fl. 1794–1795), Zen ink painter Shūbun, and scores of other Japanese artists. Categorizing an artist as a man of mystery implies that he cannot be known well enough to be understood in any meaningful way. For a biographer to concede that his subject is a man of mystery, therefore, is tantamount to an admission of defeat.

      Given the many men of mystery designated in Japanese art history, it may be...

    • 2 A Gentleman of Low Repute
      (pp. 39-73)

      If Matabei saw himself as a learned gentleman, he has, nonetheless, had the reputation of being the founder of Ukiyo-e back nearly to his own time. To those who associated Matabei with Ukiyo-e, this art was the chic and fashionable, popular and earthy, and coarse and vulgar art of the commoners of Edo. Critically, it was seen as a style of painting and printmaking as low class as the actors, courtesans, and other people of the brothel and theater district of Edo that it portrayed. It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be controversy over Matabei, for the view...

    • 3 Commoner Style
      (pp. 74-126)

      This book began by recounting how Matabei presented himself in his painted self-portrait and his written diary as a courtly, classical artist of Yamato-e, the self-proclaimed last Tosa. Next, it reported on how history perceived Matabei as the founder of Ukiyo-e and how that perception of him continues to affect the scholarly understanding of him today.

      Matabei’s insistent claim and history’s consistent counterclaim reveal the staying power of both these perceptions of him, and by now each has been so fully substantiated that neither can be disregarded. Therefore, let us act as mediator between them and regard Matabei to be...

    • 4 Courtly Subject Matter
      (pp. 127-138)

      Just as there are elements in the style of Matabei that confirm his reputation as the founder of Ukiyo-e, so too the subject matter of his art supports his identification of himself as a refined, elegant, and learned gentleman. Of course, Matabei would have known that, as the son of the warlord Araki, he was not a member of the aristocracy, but that he thought of himself as the equal of the nobility in breeding, manner, and refinement—an aristocrat in taste, thought, and action, if not in blood—is strongly suggested by the subjects that he chose to paint....

  6. Part II Matabei as Machishu

    • 5 The Many Faces of the Machishu
      (pp. 141-160)

      It was possible for an artist such as Matabei to bridge the court and commoner traditions of art because in his time there existed a powerful social group composed of aristocrats and commoners intermingled. That group was called themachishu.

      Themachishuwhom Matabei knew were an elite. By his time, which was late in the history of themachishu,they counted among their number some of the most prominent individuals of their day. Yet one of their most outstanding features as a group was their egalitarianism, for themachishucut across class lines to embrace all levels of society....

    • 6 Defining Matabei, 1578–1615
      (pp. 161-169)

      Was Matabei amachishu?We have already seen how close he was to Sōtatsu, whom Yamane identifies as an “upper classmachishu,friend of Kōetsu.”¹ More, Mizuo and Hayashiya both feature Sōtatsu prominently in their discussion of the art world of themachishu,² and Minamoto has stated of Sōtatsu’s art that it required a “circle of educated men with high tastes and free intellect [only to be found among] themachishuaround Kōetsu [or] the aristocrats around Karasumaru Mitsuhiro.”³ Thus, since Matabei knew othermachishuin addition to Sōtatsu, including Soan, Mitsuhiro, and Tōhaku, by association if nothing else then,...

    • 7 Machishu Subject Matter
      (pp. 170-210)

      This chapter considers five themes painted by Matabei. Because it is the subject matter of Matabei that concerns us here, and not his style, we need not confine the discussion to works with absolutely impeccable reputations for authenticity. Instead, we can concentrate on those paintings that best illustrate Matabei’s relationship to themachishu. These include the Funaki screens and theToyokuni Festival,both of which contain hidden references to events important to themachishu. We shall also look at the IdemitsuProfessionsscroll and Matabei’s various depictions of thirty-six poets, these works touching on myths influential in the development of...

    • 8 Style Revisited
      (pp. 211-224)

      In the preceding chapter, we saw how Matabei drew themes important to themachishu. In chapter 6 we considered the biographical evidence identifying him with this group. Thus by now we have considerable evidence identifying Matabei with themachishu,but one problem with this identification is the understanding of this artist current among scholars today.

      As noted in chapter 2 most specialists in the study of Matabei since the time of Kishida have differentiated between his subject matter and his style, holding the former to have links with court culture and the latter with commoner culture. Thus, while Tsuji, Narazaki,...

    • Colorplates
      (pp. None)
  7. Part III The Last Tosa as Founder of Ukiyo-e

    • 9 Echizen and Edo: Matabei’s Life, 1617–1650
      (pp. 227-240)

      We have shown how Matabei was one of the artists in the circle of themachishu. We have examined his biography, the subject matter of his paintings, and his style to establish that view of him. More than ample evidence exists by now that Matabei was, like Sōtatsu, what we may call a “machishupainter,” but whatever conclusion we may come to on this matter, more important is that Matabei seems to have thought of himself as such. This is apparent when we return to his diary and hisSelf-Portrait(colorplate 1) and reconsider his image of himself as a...

    • 10 The Chōnin Painter
      (pp. 241-255)

      Because Matabei had changed so much by the time of his death in Edo, the question naturally arises as to whether, at the end of his life, he was the artist to themachishuthat he had once been. Matabei’s glowing successes in Echizen and Edo add to the doubts concerning his continued identity as such, for as Mizuo noted, it was the stable, prosperous new world of thepaxTokugawa that spelled an end to this group.¹ Furthermore, as we shall now see, the style of Matabei differed significantly from that of Sōtatsu, a difference that stemmed from the...

    • 11 The Last Tosa
      (pp. 256-264)

      In this chapter we return to the issue with which this book began, that of the gap between history’s image of Matabei and his self-image. So far we have seen evidence that Matabei was achōnin,but if that is what he became on moving to Edo, that may not have been how he saw himself. As this book has shown, Matabei identified himself as amachishuin hisSelf-Portrait(colorplate 1), and that work, if theIwasa Family Lineage Recordis to be believed, he drew at the time of his death in Edo.

      What was Matabei thinking when...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 265-272)

    The story of Matabei comes to its end. It has been a long tale that has taken us from a consideration of the gap between his image of himself as a court painter and his reputation in history as a commoner artist, to the controversy over him, to his identification with themachishu. We have seen how linking Matabei with themachishuresolves the question of whether he is a court or a commoner artist by providing a context in which he could be both. We have evaluated Matabei’s place in themachishutradition of arts by comparing him to...

  9. Appendix I Primary Sources
    (pp. 273-300)
  10. Appendix II Matabei’s Travel Diary
    (pp. 301-324)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 325-392)
  12. Character List
    (pp. 393-396)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 397-402)
  14. Index
    (pp. 403-412)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 413-413)