Fujiwara no Kamatari


Fujiwara no Kamatari

Paintings / Muromachi

Muromachi period, 15th century

Color on silk



The large figure at the center of this painting is the Asuka-period politician Nakatomi no Kamatari. He was instrumental in implementing the Taika Reforms alongside Prince Naka no Oe, the man who later became Emperor Tenji. The emperor granted Kamatari the surname ”Fujiwara” just before he passed away, so Kamatari is also known as Fujiwara no Kamatari. The Fujiwara clan went on to produce many courtiers, with Kamatari becoming a near mythical figure owing to his status as the clan's founder. He was subsequently deified and enshrined in Tonomine Myorakuji temple, now known as Tanzan shrine in Nara Prefecture.
This work portrays Kamatari as a deity. It seems deity paintings like this served as objects of worship. A bamboo blind is rolled up above Kamatari's head. Further up are three mirrors that serve as objects for deities or spirits to reside in. Beyond the red curtains lies a partitioning screen with a design of wisteria coiled around pines. The vivid colors enliven the figure of Kamatari as he sits in the center radiating an aura of majesty.
Two other people sit at the bottom of the painting. The one to the viewer's left is Kamatari's son Fuhito and the one to the right is Kamatari's other son Joue, who later became a priest. Buddhist paintings sometimes feature a central Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas, a format apparently replicated by this picture. In a way, this painting is a product of Japan's ancient tradition of fusing Buddhist deities with the indigenous gods.

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