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Edo Period Six Panel Folding Screen, Depicting the Hie Sanno Matsuri Festival


Antique Japanese six panel folding screen (byobu[i]) in sumi, colors and gold leaf (kinpaku) on paper, with paper hinges, textile border and wooden molding, depicting festivities surrounding the Hie Sanno Festival in the Province of OMI on Lake Biwa with boatloads of celebrants, some carrying shrines, headed away from a launching point onshore where others are seen arriving on foot and by litter. This striking painting depicts the festival known as the Hie Sanno matsuri. It celebrates the deity Sanno Gongen, originally known as the proto-historic Shinto god Oyamagui. The festival takes place annully at Hie Sanno-sha, a Shinto shrine associated with the Enryakuji temple complex on Mount Hiei in Shiga prefecture. The festivities take place on Lake Biwa, near the town of Sakamoto in the shadow of Mount Hiei. They begin - after the Day of the Monkey - in the fourth month of the lunar calendar. Originating in 1072, the festival attracts worshippers of all ages and levels of society, ranging from court society to poor commoners. A venerated subject for screens during the relatively peaceful Momoyama (1573-1615) and Edo (1615-1868) periods, paintings such as this, known as sairei-zu (“festival pictures”)[ii], faithfully recorded the multitude of people and the celebratory atmosphere of their activities. Commissioned by warrior lords and wealthy merchants, such paintings served as a remembrance of the festivities, both for owners and guests. The climax of the festival is featured in this screen, a race between representatives of the seven upper shrines, jostling one another as they vie to load their sacred shrine cart (mikoshi) onto double-hulled boats, each hoping to be the first to cross Lake Biwa and pass the goal line boat (gokusenbune) anchored off the shore of Karasaki[iii]. With the winner declared, the resplendent mikoshi and their crews return to Sakamoto with great fanfare, shouting and pounding drums. A novel feature of this painting is the appearance of a group of monkeys, or more likely, festival participants dressed as monkeys, on a boat with a shrine-like structure marked by ribbon-tied banners. Seated to the front of the troop on the left side and clothed in semi-formal court robes, their leader is shown exchanging greetings with a high-ranking Japanese courtier, also accompanied by numerous attendants. The association of the monkey as the messenger (tsukai) of this shrine complex is partially based on Chinese geomancy (fengsui) and word play. According to Chinese tradition, northeast is considered an inauspicious direction, known as the ‘demon gate’ (kimon). In Japan, however, the word for monkey (?, pronounced saru) is a homonym with the word for ‘dispel, remove, eliminate’ (??, also pronounced saru). By association, the monkey is thought to vanquish demons. Since Mount Hiei was located to the northeast of Kyoto, Japan’s imperial capital, this extensive temple and shrine complex, together with the monkey, served as sacred guardians. Indeed, the revered monkey of the Hie Shrine has its own name, masaru (??), literally meaning “deity monkey”. A homonym for this name, ??, is also pronounced masaru but means “to excel / to be better than / to outshine”, reflecting the belief that the sacred monkey Masaru can prevail against all obstacles and ensure success. Provencance: Imari Gallerie, Sausalito, CA.        


  • Of the Period
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  • Date of Manufacture
  • Wear
    Wear consistent with age and use.
  • Dimensions
    H 49 in. x W 106 in. x D 1 in.H 124.46 cm x W 269.24 cm x D 2.54 cm
  • Seller Location
    San Francisco, CA
  • Reference Number
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5 / 5
1stdibs seller since 2013
Located in San Francisco, CA
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