|The Ippen Hijiri-e is a set of twelve illustrated handscrolls dedicated in 1299 to commemorate the life of Ippen Shonin (1239-1289), founder of the Ji-shu, a popular Amidist Buddhist sect. The forty-eight paintings, executed with minute detail, set Ippen's biography against extensive architectural and landscape backgrounds. Through analysis of the paintings' artistic and literary sources, this dissertation demonstrates that all aspects of the work, including not only its narrative but also its lyricism and realistic style, contribute to its religious meaning. As the first study of the Ippen Hijiri-e in a Western language, the dissertation also provides an abridged translation of the accompanying text.
The pictorial narration of Ippen's religious career is analyzed here for the first time. It is shown that the paintings complement the religious themes of the written biography and were systematically organized to differentiate three stages of Ippen's life: his spiritual development, early ministry, and the flourishing of his proselytizing activity.
It is argued, too, that the panoramic settings reinforce the notion of Ippen's greatness as a spiritual teacher. The settings convey three themes: poetry, travel, and pilgrimage. The poetic theme, expressed through lyrical representations of landscape, draws upon the nature imagery of Japanese court poetry. It alludes to Ippen's use of verse for religious teachings and characertizes him as a person of sensitivity. The theme of travel evokes with scenes of Ippen's wanderings the romance of his itinerant life. The theme of pilgrimage is conveyed by detailed representations of Buddhist and Shinto holy sites; it mirrors Ippen's reverence for sacred places and for the Shinto gods.
Although scholars have interpreted the realism of the architectural portrayals as evidence that the artists must have traveled to each place represented, it appears instead that the illustrations owe their greatest debt to the high value accorded realism in Japanese shrine-and-temple painting. While the settings are in fact largely accurate, the painter's sources of knowledge about the sites depicted were probably varied, including personal observation, existing paintings, and perhaps maps or travelers' descriptions.
An important source for the depictions of nature in the Ippen scrolls in Chinese art, whose influence is more profound than had previously been recognized. It includes adoption of motifs, technical borrowings such as ink wash, and ambitious compositional experiments. Whereas most contemporaneous paintings with Chinese influence were derived from Buddhist art, the models for the Ippen Hijiri-e must have included secular paintings, especially landscapes, among them works in both Northern and Southern Sung styles. Thus the Ippen Hijiri-e reflects an early, virtually undocumented phase of Chinese influence on Japan. Also unique is its use of Chinese elements to achieve poetic effects typical of the aristocratic Japanese sensibility.
In sum, while the Ippen Hijiri-e embodies the values of Japanese court art, it enriches the lyricism of that tradition with new borrowings and transforms it to serve the ends of a Buddhist biography.
The aristocratic character of the paintings illuminates the final issue: the identity of En'i, who is cited in the scrolls' inscription as painter, but is otherwise unknown. It is argued here that this En'i is identical with En'i of Onjoji, a high priest active in palace ceremonies and a court poet. Scholars have regarded En'i of Onjoji as too highly placed to contribute to a project celebrating a humble Amidist preacher; yet the courtly taste of the paintings supports that attribution. It is suggested, however, that En'i was not himself a painter, but coordinated the professional artists who executed the scrolls. The involvement of En'i of Onjoji would explain the unprecedented thematic and pictorial richness of the Ippen Hijiri-e.