Mitsui Memorial Museum
We take great pleasure in presenting the Aesthetic Perfection: The Higashiyama Gomotsu Collection Assembled by the Ashikaga Shoguns in the 14th to 15th Centuries exhibition to mark the Mitsui Memorial Museum’s tenth anniversary in 2015. Over the past decade, urban development of the Nihonbashi district has progressed at a rapid pace, and our museum as an institution has grown with it. This exhibition can be considered epoch-making in that it has sprung forth from our joint development.
The Ashikaga shogunal family’s art collection came to be known as the Higashiyama gomotsu, or the Higashiyama honored objects, and represents the zenith of Muromachi period aesthetics. The term Higashiyama refers to the Higashiyama Sansô villa built by the Muromachi period’s 8th Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa (1436–1490), but the core of the collection itself was assembled by the 3rd shogun Yoshimitsu (1358–1408) and the 6th shogun Yoshinori (1394–1441). The works known today as the Higashiyama gomotsu include many of the treasures handed down through the generations of the Ashikaga family. Most of the works in the collection were not created in Japan, but are so-called karamono, literally Chinese objects, that were brought to Japan in the trade with the Ming dynasty of the time. Thus the Higashiyama gomotsu works were born amidst the history of Chinese art, and were accorded the highest accolades and appreciated in Japan. They are an exceptionally important group of works in the history of Japanese art when we consider how the Ashikaga elite formulated their aesthetic standards.
Most of the paintings in the Higashiyama gomotsu date from the Chinese Song and Yuan dynasties, which can be largely divided into two groups. One group is the highly detailed paintings produced by Li Di, Ma Yuan, Liang Kai and other painters from the imperial painting academy who were favored by the Chinese emperors. The 8th emperor of the Northern Song dynasty, Huizong, not only assembled a collection of calligraphy, painting and ancient objects, he was also renowned for his own calligraphy, poetry and painting. The other group is paintings by Muxi, Yujian and other Zen-related figures. Their paintings characterized by their generous and yet sensitively rendered ink work greatly influenced Japanese painting from the Muromachi period onwards.
These artworks would have been enjoyed during the Muromachi period in the kaisho reception rooms built within the shogunal residence, which were adorned with Chinese paintings and various forms of Chinese decorative arts. Flower vases and incense burners were arranged in front of Buddhist hanging scrolls. Shelves were used to display different types of Chinese lacquer, while Tenmoku tea bowls and Chinese chaire tea containers were arranged on tea ceremony shelves. All of these works would be of the finest quality. The choice of which works to display and how to combine them was made by the shogun himself and his dôbôshû senior advisors, who were all connoisseurs. Thanks to their aesthetic understanding and preferences, a refined space adorned with the finest Chinese artworks was created. The creation itself of such a space particularly for the appreciation of artworks can also be considered to have been a creative act.
The aesthetic standards seen in the Higashiyama gomotsu came to be considered one of the benchmarks for later Japanese appreciation of painting and decorative arts, and indeed, from the Momoyama period through the Edo period, and up to today, they are recognized as the classic standard of aesthetic excellence.