Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Attack on the Sanjo Palace

I've only been to Boston a few, brief visits -- but a highlight from each visit had to be this scroll at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

I've never seen anything like it -- before or since -- it's like an epic action movie -- shot by John Ford -- where every scene is shot perfect -- telling the story -- beginning to end -- accross a scroll that's 20 feet long.

You can see that the action is violent -- the confusion is everywhere -- but it's an organized chaos -- and that's why it's so memorable.

I've just begun the Heike Monogatari -- an epic novel that covers the same 12th C. events -- and was written in the same period as the scroll was made (13th C.)

I'm completely a novice at Japanese history -- so I can't yet put this event into a wider context -- but it's so thrilling to have the story and its illlustration side-by-side.

BTW -- the scroll got to Boston through the grace of Ernest Fenollosa (1853 - 1908)-- an American scholar who taught philosophy at Tokyo University and is famous for his collaboration with Ezra Pound for introducing Asian literature and philosophy to American scholars. Apparently he bought it from the Honda family. (any relation to the fictional protagonist of Mishima's tetralogy ?)


News Flash! (May, 2010)

A much better version on the internet
can now be found here


Blogger New York Red said...

I don't think I will be able to to this time when I am in Boston, but your posting makes me want to go back to Met soon.

May 24, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Dude, SLOW DOWN! I can't get to your posts as fast as you are posting them!

Red: go and see the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, if you have to miss the plane for it. its a wonderful and beautuflly displayed collection of asian art.

in fact, go if you have to break a leg for it.

May 26, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...


this is a veritable genre in japanese painting (and you can see it in Chinese painting, too, though less often) long scrolls illustrating literature -- sometimes in huge simultaneous events, sometimes in a series of sebsequent events. MoFA in Boston has a wonderful Chinese scroll like this showing the retirement of a scholar from public life. they are read right to left (thats the way one unrolls them).

thanks for all these photos


Sir G

May 26, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

PS Heike monogatari, like Homer, was recited by bards. and occasionally still is. i heard such a performance -- it was done by a woman who was playing a biwa (a sort of oversized mandolin) for accompaniment. the audience were classically trained europeans and their jaws dropped: here was a live art form of which they have all heard as standing at the threshold of our civilization -- there are bards in Odyssey.

May 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you, what a treat.

Sei Shonagon

June 09, 2006  
Blogger A Conductor said...

Chris, that's amazing! Like these works, your site is a treasure because it lets us share in them!

I really have to get to our Royal Ontario Museum here and chcek out all the asian exhibits, which have recently opened after a number of years, due to renovation.

June 09, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Thankyou all for your comments !

I lived in Buffalo back in the early seventies --- and our favorite day-trip was the hundred mile drive to Toronto to see -- of course -- the Asian collection at the Royal Ontario Museum. The aesthetic of the display itself was a bit -- awkward -- similar to some of the ethnic rooms at Chicago's Field museum of Natural History. I wonder how the new display will be different. I'm counting on you, Little Thought, to take along your camera and post a report.

June 10, 2006  

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