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Magnificent, panoramic paintings of Kyoto offer some of the most vivid visual records of a city before the modern era. Produced on folding screens, these images, called rakuchū rakugai zu (views of Kyoto and its outskirts), were first created in the sixteenth century during the Japan’s “Warring States” era, a century of political turmoil and military conflict that would end in national unification and the advent of early modernity. These intensely detailed pictures embody the fundamental tensions inherent in any depiction of everyday life, between the real and the imagined, between historical document and work of art. Through an overview of representative examples of the Kyoto screen genre, this talk will highlight and explore these tensions to reveal how they are fundamental to an understanding of the city of Kyoto.

Matthew McKelway first encountered Japanese art as a student at Amherst College in the 1980s while he was a Fine Arts major learning Japanese. Since 2007 he has taught the history of Japanese art at Columbia University, where he received his doctorate several years earlier. A specialist in Japanese painting, his studies initially focused on folding screen paintings of Kyoto (rakuchū rakugai zu) and the development of genre painting in early modern Japan, but have extended to Kano school painting, Rimpa, individualist painters in eighteenth-century Kyoto, and Japanese adaptations of ancient Chinese narrative subjects. Some of these interests have converged in essays on fan paintings, a subject of ongoing research. In his publications he has sought to understand Japanese paintings according to the physical and cultural contexts of their creators in order to discover the motivations, whether political, personal, literary, or philosophical, that drove them to make pictures in particular ways. In his recent research he has begun to explore the vast topic of bird and flower painting in Japan and China. In 2017 he was awarded Columbia's Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award.

Contact Info

Jessie Berlingo
(413) 542-5841
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