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National Treasure Gallery: Presumed Portrait of Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi

"National Treasure Gallery: Presumed Portrait of Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi"

Japanese Gallery (Honkan) Room 2  October 18, 2016 (Tue) - November 13, 2016 (Sun)

Presumed Portrait of Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi (detail), Kamakura period, 13th century (National Treasure, Lent by Jingoji, Kyoto)

This portrait is preserved at Jingoji temple in Kyoto together with two other portraits said to be of famous figures: Minamoto no Yoritomo (the first Kamakura shogun), and the warlord Taira no Shigemori. With headwear, shaku baton and sword, this portrait’s subject sits on a tatami mat attired as a court noble. The subject’s ceremonial court dress is a kowashozoku, a stiffly starched form of clothing popular from the end of the Heian period (794–1192). In various places, the artist has created a halo effect that gives gradation to the colors, while paints applied from the reverse side heighten the coloring effects. These techniques, which are normally used in Buddhist paintings, are detectable throughout the portrait. This painting, which depicts an almost life-sized subject on a single sheet of silk, is unique among Japanese portraits of non-religious figures. From these factors, it seems that this portrait was created for a ceremony as an object of worship.
In the Edo period (1603–1868), the subject was thought to be Sakuramachi Shigenori, while from the Meiji era (1868–1912) it came to be seen as Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi, a 12th-century aristocrat. The way it has been preserved with specific names is historically intriguing. In recent years, a large debate erupted over a theory that the subject is Ashikaga Yoshiakira, the second shogun in the Muromachi period (1392–1573). Recent research has also revealed that the portrait’s silk has the same composition as that of several Buddhist paintings from the early Nanbokucho period (1333–1392).
In any case, this exceptional portrait, with its handsome face and a sense of divinity that seemingly rebuffs the viewer, is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of Japanese portrait painting.

Major Work(s) on Exhibit 1 results
Designation Name Amount Creation Excavation Period Acquisition Ownership Comment
Highlight National Treasure Presumed Portrait of Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi Kamakura period, 13th century Lent by Jingoji, Kyoto