Sano Ryuun (d. 1808) 佐野龍雲
Castles for the Emperors: Nintoku (r. AD 313-399) & Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC)
Pair of six-fold screens, ink and color on paper
Each 161.1 x 359.4 cm. (63 1/2 x 141 1/2 in.)
Inscription: “Painted by Ryuun, imperially appointed hokkyu (‘bridge of the law’).”
Artist’s seals: Ryuun; Minamoto Yoshiharu
The painter, Sano Yoshiharu, called Ryuun, descendent of the Minamoto clan, was affiliated stylistically with the Kano school, as evidenced here. On another level, these unusual screens present telling contrasts between Japan on the right and China on the left especially in architectural styles and the character and traditional dress and demeanor of human folk. A Japanese castle, housing a refined court, is built high on stone ramparts with a serene village and farmlands below, conveying the good order and productivity obtaining under the auspices of a caring ruler. In the other screen a verandah on the far end of a Chinese tiled structure allows a group to watch an immense log hoisted and dragged on wheels as others prepare the further materials for building. Equally engaging are the contrasting historical narratives presented: Emperor Nintoku halted taxation after witnessing the lack of smoke from the cold stoves of poverty-stricken residents; as a result, three years later smoke rose up again. It is written that in building Qin Shihuangdi’s Afang palace, gargantuan logs from western and central China each required the muscle of 2000 prisoners to move them, their struggle under the despot providing contrast to the benevolent Japanese emperor.