Theses Doctoral

Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716) and the Possibilities of Painting in Early Modern Japan

Feltens, Frank

This dissertation investigates the work of Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), one of the most idiosyncratic artists of Japan’s early modern period. By employing aspects of literature and theater, as well as a focus on Kōrin’s experimentations with the effects of style, materials, and artistic media, I elucidate how his oeuvre is characterized by a continuous strive to test the faculties of painting. Following a chronological approach, the four chapters of the dissertation trace Kōrin’s life and work from his early steps as a painter to the collaboration with his brother Kenzan (1663–1743) during his final years. The chapters are framed by an introduction, a conclusion, and an appendix. The first chapter focusses on Kōrin’s earliest works: two hanging scrolls depicting the medieval poet Sōgi (1421–1502) and Hotei Playing Kemari, as well as a pair of screens entitled Poetic Meanings of the Twelve Months. These works reveal Kōrin’s intellectual indebtedness to late medieval culture and the imperial court. Kōrin’s initial engagement in the arts occurred alongside his first confrontation with medieval ink modes, which laid the foundations for Kōrin’s lifelong understanding of that material. Numerous contemporary sources testify to Kōrin’s passion for the Noh theater. This little-studied, formative period of Kōrin’s life established his aesthetic sensibilities and is thus critical for understanding his art, a connection examined in the second chapter. Kōrin’s perennial engagement with Noh put him in contact with high-level aristocrats, such as the Nijō family, as well as upper-tier clergy at the temples Daigoji and Nishi Honganji. The theater also provides a possible reading of key works by Kōrin, such as his screen painting Irises. The third and fourth chapters explore Kōrin’s diversified dialogue with the material qualities of ink. The third chapter surveys his appropriation of a particular technique, tarashikomi, first championed by Tawaraya Sōtatsu (d. ca. 1640). I propose that Kōrin turned to tarashikomi as he prepared to leave his native Kyoto for Edo, where he was active for around five years. The chapter argues that Kōrin used tarashikomi, a painting method associated with Kyoto culture, to solicit clients in the shogunal capital of Edo. The last chapter is devoted to Kōrin’s collaboration with Kenzan. From the 1710s onward, the brothers created numerous examples of sabi-e, works in iron oxide on square ceramic vessels that emulate the techniques and visuality of paintings in ink. This unprecedented expansion of the boundaries of one medium to envelop another resulted in approximations of traditional ink paintings in ceramics. In the process, Kōrin expanded the paradigm of ink to include an entirely new material component. The appendix includes the first complete English-language translation of the collection of extant Edo-period letters and other documents by and about Kōrin that are contained in the Konishi Archives, held at the Kyoto National Museum, the Osaka Municipal Museum, and various other collections in Japan.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
McKelway, Matthew Philip
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 5, 2016