Theses Doctoral

Ink Painting in Medieval Kamakura

Rio, Aaron Michael

This dissertation reconsiders the early history of ink painting in Kamakura- (1185-1333) and Muromachi-period (1336-1573) Japan, focusing on art in the former administrative capital of Kamakura, the cradle of Chinese-style monastic Zen and the Sinocentric cultural apparatus that accompanied it. I examine the early reception of Chinese painting by the city’s political and ecclesiastical elites and subsequent artistic production by priest-painters active at local Zen monasteries. My study reveals Kamakura as the nucleus of a heretofore disregarded cultural sphere in medieval eastern Japan, one in which Zen priest-painters engaged with nearby collections of Chinese painting to create a local pictorial tradition that would endure, seemingly immune to artistic trends in Kyoto, through the late fifteenth century. I examine the history of ink painting in Kamakura in an introduction, five chapters, a conclusion, and one appendix. Chapter 1 surveys the establishment in Kamakura of Japan’s first two Rinzai Zen monasteries modeled exclusively on Chinese precedents, namely Kenchōji and Engakuji, cultural exchange between Kamakura and the Southern Song Chinese capital Hangzhou, and the early reception of Chinese painting. I use extant diaries and documents to partially reconstruct the vast collections of Chinese works of art held in thirteenth and early fourteenth-century Kamakura and investigate the large-scale deaccessioning of these same objects after the collapse of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333. A full English translation of the only extant inventory of one of these collections, that of the Engakuji subtemple Butsunichian, is included as an appendix. Chapter 2 focuses on the long-term development by local priest-painters of a unique ink painting style derived from works associated with the Chinese master Muqi Fachang (fl. 13th c.), affording the first sustained view of ink painting in Muromachi-period Kamakura. Chapters 3 through 5 focus in varying ways on Kamakura’s enigmatic fifteenth century, characterized by relative isolation from artistic developments in Kyoto and a dearth of extant documentary materials. Chapters 3 and 4 investigate the obscure Kamakura priest-painter Chūan Kinkō (fl. first half 15th c.), known and misconstrued since the Edo period (1603-1868) as “Chūan Shinkō.” Chapter 3 traces the fabrication of “Chūan Shinkō” that occurred piecemeal from the mid-seventeenth century to the present day, while Chapter 4 reimagines the painter as “Chūan Kinkō” through an examination of his relatively large, mostly unstudied corpus of ink paintings. In Chapter 5, I survey a large body of devotional paintings produced by a multi-generational circle of anonymous artists active at Kamakura’s premier Zen monastery, Kenchōji, and posit the existence of a prolific painting studio that served as a primary source of models for painters active at other monasteries in Kamakura and throughout eastern Japan. In the conclusion, I begin to explore the continued impact of this local painting tradition on ink painters active in Kamakura and the surrounding region during and after the recommencement of artistic exchange with the capital in the late fifteenth century.

Geographic Areas



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
McKelway, Matthew Phillip
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 16, 2015