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Japanese Tiger and Dragon

Sliding painted screens would have decorated the walls of a 17th-century Zen monastery (reproduced in the museum’s galleries). By then, a flamboyant gold style had replaced the earlier interest in simple ink painting.



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This pair of screens might have decorated the public areas of a Zen monastery.

The goal of Zen is to come to a perfect understanding of the nature of the world. This understanding does not come from reading religious texts or saying prayers. Rather it comes from direct experience of the world, heightened by meditation and the guidance of a Zen master.

Strictly speaking, art has no place in Zen Buddhism. A serious Zen master would have considered painting and poetry a distraction from the important business of meditation. But in practice, Zen monasteries were important centers of art production in 16th century Japan.

This pair of screens might have decorated the public area of a Zen monastery. They were probably painted by Yamada Doan I, the first of three generations of painters with the same name. He was from a high-ranking warrior family and was lord of the Yamada castle. But he also became a Zen Buddhist monk, taking the name Doan when he entered the monastery. The skill and sure hand seen in these painted screens suggests that Doan was more of a professional painter than a serious monk. Nor did he abandon his warrior past—he died in battle in 1571.

March 2005