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  • Writer's pictureCabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique

Dazzling screens: The brilliance of Momoyama art (1573 - 1603) in Japan

Updated: Apr 3

In the political turmoil of the Momoyama period, marked by the decline of the Ashikaga shogun and a tumultuous civil war, a cultural phenomenon emerged that transcended the conflicts of the time: the era of golden screens.

Screen with fabulous lions (kara-jishi), Kano Eitoku, second half of the 16th century, 6-leaf screen, colors and gold leaf on paper, 222, 8 X 452 cm, Imperial Collections Museum.

This pivotal period in Japanese history witnessed profound upheavals in society, with the rise of strong personalities from the grassroots. It was in this context of shifting power that art took on an ostentatious air, a visual expression of the new rulers' desire to convey their power.

Two-leaf folding screen, Japan, Momoyama period, appraised by Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon Asium, sold for 3,000 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault

The impact of these changes was dramatically felt in the interior design of castles, where palatial architecture underwent significant transformations. The massive introduction of separating elements such as screens and sliding walls marked an era of visual distinction. These screens, the backdrop of power and magnificence, were imbued with an abundance of gold, becoming a dazzling reflection of the golden age of monumental decor.

Cypress screen, Kano Eitoku, late 16th century, 8-leaf screen, ink and colors on paper, 169.5 cm X 460.5 cm, Tokyo National Museum

Japanese architecture of the time, often characterized by its sobriety, found in these screens a welcome source of light. The central rooms of the houses, often dark because of their arrangement around a central room, were illuminated by the brilliance of the gold leaves. Measuring around 10 cm, these gold leaves covered all the surfaces of the screens, creating an artistic evocation of the ground and clouds.

The screens, whether decorated in sober ink or bursting with vivid color, served as the canvas for the demonstration of power. Each panel, meticulously overlaid with gold, was a visual statement of the magnificence and authority of those who ruled. These works of art, witnesses to the unique expression of the Momoyama period, transcended political tumult to become visual testimonies of power, capturing the very essence of an era of radical cultural and artistic change.

Paravent à six volets : cheval à la longe, Momoyama period (1568 - 1603), Indian ink and gold leaf, 166.5 cm x 59 cm, Musée Guimet

This is where the expertise and appraisal skills of experts like Jean Gauchet become crucial. Jean Gauchet, a recognized authority on Japanese art, has played a decisive role in the authentication and appraisal of Japanese screens. His expertise enables collectors and institutions to confidently assess the authenticity and value of their Momyama-era screens. Jean Gauchet's involvement in the art world reinforces the credibility of auctions and ensures that buyers and sellers can make informed decisions.

References :

« Paravents du Japon», Christophe Provot, 9 juin 2023, La Gazette Drouot, dir. Sylvain Alliod.

«Momoyama bunka», Iwaoo Seiichi et. al., Dictionnaire historique du Japon, 1988.

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