The Other Shore: Sesshū Tōyō (1420 - ca. 1506) and the Sino-Japanese Cultural Sphere in the Fifteenth Century
Bennett, Steffani Michelle
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CitationBennett, Steffani Michelle. 2020. The Other Shore: Sesshū Tōyō (1420 - ca. 1506) and the Sino-Japanese Cultural Sphere in the Fifteenth Century. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe Zen monk Sesshū Tōyō (1420 - ca. 1506) is among the most lauded painters in the history of Japanese art, a reputation in no small part due to his unique status as the first professional painter of the premodern period to travel to China and the only Japanese painter to study at the imperial painting academy. Despite his centrality to the tradition of Japanese art, Sesshū’s straddling of two worlds – that of Muromachi Japan (1338-1573) and Ming China (1368-1644) – has rendered elusive a clear understanding of the forces that shaped his artistic practice. Since the seventeenth century, Sesshū’s China trip has been the interpretive touchstone upon which commentators based their pronouncements on his life and art. Yet, the field of Sesshū scholarship had not sufficiently addressed why and how the experience of travel fundamentally changed both the manner of Sesshū’s painting and the conceptual foundations upon which his artistry was based. This dissertation argues that Sesshū’s experience in China transformed both his approach to painting and his understanding of what it meant to be a painter in medieval Japan. Through a series of painting case studies, I demonstrate that Sesshū returned to Japan with a new array of painting techniques and conceptual approaches to his craft that would define his legacy and have enduring ramifications for the future of Japanese painting.
This dissertation is divided into three parts titled The Journey, Spheres of Culture, and The China Legacy. In the single chapter of Part I (The Journey), I reconstruct the historical circumstances of Sesshū’s travel as a member of a Japanese tribute trade delegation bound for the Ming court. In the two chapters of Part II (Spheres of Culture), I address the socio-cultural and artistic environments of the two spheres – that of the literati and the court – in which Sesshū spent considerable amounts of time in China. In the two chapters of Part III (The China Legacy) I examine two painting projects that Sesshū undertook in the year 1486 to excavate the lasting implications of Sesshū’s travel experience in his late career. Ultimately, this study posits Sesshū as one lens through which to observe how conditions of mobility in the premodern world enabled cultural forms to circulate beyond boundaries of country and empire and thereby to assume new modes of expression and contexts of meaning.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365793
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