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TOYOTOMI AND EARLY TOKUGAWA PERIOD
1600-1700 A. D.
THE Ashikaga rule, weakened by the factions of the two families, Yamana and Hosokawa, who, as regents of the Shoguns, were dominant, gave way by degrees before the rising power of the feudal barons. The country was in a constant state of war, with perpetual conflicts between each two neighbouring daimyos, among whom rose sometimes a great mind that would form the design of unifying the empire by obtaining a hold over the capital where the emperor resided. The history of the whole period is simply the narrative of so many rival attempts to reach Kyoto.
Ota-Nobunaga, who, with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Iyeyasu forms a triple power, each in turn constituting the great representative force of his day, at last accomplished the task. It was Nobunaga who, from his place d'avantage in central Japan, was able to wedge himself into the focus of the conflicting movements, and replace the Ashikaga Shoguns in his own person as military dictator of more than half baronial Japan. It was Hideyoshi who, as the greatest general of Nobunaga, succeeded to his influence and completed the subjugation of the rival chiefs, leaving the country again at his death to be consolidated under the strict régime of the wary statesman, Iyeyasu.
Thus the Central figure of this period is that of Hideyoshi, a man who rose from the lowest rank to the highest dignity in the empire in 1586 A.D., and to whose towering ambition Japan was so much too small a sphere as to lead him to attempt the conquest of China, an idea which brought about the disastrous devastation of Korea, and the humiliating recall of Japanese troops from the peninsula on his death in 1598.
Like their illustrious leader, the new nobility of that period were men who had created their own ancestry with their swords; some were recruited from the banditti of the land, and some from the piratical captains who were such a terror to the people of the Chinese coast; and naturally, to their uncultured mind, the solemn and severe refinement of the Ashikaga princes was distasteful, because unintelligible. They, instigated by Hideyoshi, often indulged in the subtle pleasures of the tea-ceremony, yet even this meant for them rather the enjoyment of displaying their riches than any true refinement.
The art of this period is more remarkable, therefore, for its gorgeousness and wealth of colour than for its inner significance. The decoration of palaces in the style of Ming, rich with decadent elaborateness, was suggested to them by their intercourse with the Koreans and Chinese, through the continental war.
New palaces were needed for the new daimyos, which, by their size and magnificence, outshone the simpler dwellings even of the Ashikaga Shoguns. This was the age of stone castles, whose plans were influenced by Portuguese engineers. of these, the foremost was that of Osaka, planned by Hideyoshi himself, the construction of which was assisted by all the daimyos throughout the country, so as to make it impregnable even to the military genius of Iyeyasu.
That of Momoyama, near Kyoto, was also a grand masterpiece in this kind of construction, attracting the admiration of the Whole nation by its splendour and magnificence. Here the whole wealth of artistic decoration was lavished to the utmost, so that had it survived the memorable earthquake of 1596 and subsequent destructive fire of war, the glory of Nikko would have paled before it, because the Nikko is a mere imitation of what artists call now the Momoyama style. Momoyama was the Versailles which all the barons or daimyos imitated, every country castle being made a miniature Momoyama in itself.
Now was discovered the wonderful usefulness of gold-leaf, employed so much ever since that day as decoration for walls and screens. Some screens of the celebrated "hundred sets" belonging to the palace-castle are still preserved, as well as some of those which adorned the wayside for miles during the processions of Hideyoshi. Huge pines were painted on a scale of forty or fifty feet in breadth to cover the walls of audience-Chambers. Hot-tempered daimyos rained down their orders simultaneously on weary artists, sometimes demanding a palace, with decorations, to be completed in a day. And Kano Yeitoku, with his multitude of pupils, worked on, painting the immense forests, the birds of gorgeous plumage, and the lions and tigers that symbolised courage and royalty, in the midst of all the magnificent turmoil of their patrons.
Tokugawa Iyeyasu, who Came into power after the second storming of the Osaka Castle in 1615, unified the administrative system throughout the land, and put it, with his wonderful statesmanship, upon a new régime of simplicity and solidarity. Alike in art and manners he strove to return to the Ashikaga ideal. His court painters — Tannyu and his brothers, Naonobu and Yasunobu, with their nephew, Tsunenobu — made it their aim to imitate the purity of Sesshu, but failed, of course, to touch his real significance. The age was alive with the virility of a race only just awakened from sleep, evincing now for the first time the naive delight of a populace but newly made free of the world of art. In this Japanese society anticipates by two hundred years some of the most striking features of the nineteenth century of Europe. The manners and loves of the time were for display and not simplicity, and this, even as late as the era of Genroku, a century after the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The architecture of early Tokugawa followed mainly, as said before, the characteristics of Toyotomi, of which fact we find examples in the mausoleums of Nikko and Shiba, and in the palace decorations of the Nijo Castle, and the Nishi Hoganji Temple.
The breaking down of social distinctions, which was brought about by the upheaval of the new aristocracy, permeated art with a spirit of democracy hitherto unknown.
Here we find the beginning of the Ukioye or Popular School, though its conceptions at this time differed widely from those of the later Tokugawa genre school, where intense class-distinctions imposed their limitations on plebeian conceptions. In this age of wild revelry, while pleasure was yet sweet to the nation, freed from half a Century of bloodshed, whenever the people would vent their energies in juvenile playfulness and fantastic images, the daimyos would join with the populace in unrestrained enjoyment.
Sanraku, the able successor and adopted son of Yeitoku; Kohi, the great teacher of Tannyu; Yuwasa Katsushige, the so-called father of the Ukiyoe School; and Itcho, noted for his panegyrics on the life of the day, were all artists of rank in the highest line — yet they delighted to paint the common scenes of life, with no feeling of lowering themselves, such as high-class artists of the later Tokugawa had, and so this age of revelry and pleasure led to the creation of a great decorative, though not a spiritual art. The only school which stands out with deep significance is that of Sotatsu and Korin. Their pioneers, Koyetsu and Koho, drew from the débris of the decadent and almost lost school of the Tosa, and tried to infuse into it the bold conceptions of the Ashikaga masters. True to the instinct of the period, they expressed themselves in rich colouring. They handled colour more as mass than as line, as former colourists had done, and would bring out with a simple wash the broadest effect. Sotatsu gives us best of all the spirit of Ashikaga in its purity, while Korin, through his very ripeness, degenerates into formalism and posing.
We find in Korin's life a pathetic story of his sitting on a brocade cushion whenever he painted a picture, saying, "I must feel like a daimyo while I create!" showing that a touch of class distinction was beginning to creep into the artistic mind even then.
This school, foreshadowing modern French Impressionism by two centuries, was nipped in the bud of its great futurity by that icy conventionalism of the Tokugawa régime to which it unfortunately succumbed.