Panoramic views of Kyoto, filled with endlessly fascinating details first appeared in the beginning of the sixteenth century and remained popular until the eighteenth century. Such screens were in great demand among the people of Kyoto and were purchased also by out-of-town visitors as a souvenir of their visit to the capital. A few screens can be attributed to a specific artist, but most, including those shown here, are by ambitious, anonymous town painters in large ateliers. The lavish, no-expense-spared use of gold, high-quality pigments such as cinnabar, malachite and azurite, the attention to minute detail, and clearly structured composition signal the viewer that this is a special commission on the highest order. The gold clouds are extravagantly rendered by building up gold leaf applied over relief formed of ground shells.
The organization of Kyoto panoramas evolved in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in response to political changes. The government of Kyoto changed from an unstable balance of contending factions to the firm central authority of the Tokugawa shogunate. At the same time, with the advent of peace and prosperity in the early seventeenth century, there was an increasing interest in the activities of ordinary citizens and the secular world of entertainment. The cityscape is arranged with east and west Kyoto on the right and left screens, respectively. The Great Buddha Hall and the Imperial Palace are always featured on the right screen. Nijo Castle dominates the left screen and is generally the largest and most impressive building in the composition. Nijo Castle was completed in 1603 as the temporary residence of the new shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It became a symbol of the Tokugawa presence in Kyoto and their victory over the forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Festivals and processions are demonstrations of power and they feature prominently in paintings of the capital. The procession that departs from Nijo Castle on this pair of screens and continues to the Imperial Palace in the left corner of the right screen, may represent the wedding procession of Tofukumon'in (known early in life as Masako; also Kazuko, 1607-1678) and Emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596-1680).
Tofukumon'in was the daughter of the second shogun of the Tokugawa, or Edo period, Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632). Her parents arranged the marriage of their thirteen-year-old daughter to the emperor in 1620, a political alliance beneficial to the shogunate. This was a period of consolidation of power for the Tokugawa military rulers; marrying into the royal family bolstered the fledgling shogunate's claim to legitimacy. Go-Mizunoo abdicated in 1629 in favor of Tofukumon'in's eldest daughter, who became Empress Meisho, ruling from 1629 until 1643. Tofukumon'in also exerted influence over three subsequent emperors, all sons of Go-Mizunoo by other women. Masako's income from the shogunate and her personal interests made her a generous patron of the arts and of Buddhist temples. She was responsible for the restoration of important Kyoto temples damaged during warfare in earlier years. She was also a collector and a skilled calligrapher.
The Nyogo go judai ki, a record of the nuptial procession, specifies that Masako's oxcart was pulled by two black oxen and that there were six additional carts. Masako's cart is probably the one represented here along the south wall of Nijo Castle. The windows of the carriage are covered with blinds so the bride remains discretely out of sight, but the scale of the procession makes clear the expense and care lavished on the event by the Tokugawa family. Three additional oxcarts wait along the south wall of the castle. The same record lists other parts of the dowry and retinue ("two boxes for bamboo blinds"; "30 pairs of folding screens"; "two lines of attendants on horseback," and so on) but it's clear that the procession is abbreviated in these screens. (For Tofukumon'in, see Elizabeth Lillehoj, "Tofukumon'in: Empress, Patron, and Artist," Woman's Art Journal 17 , 28-34.) A pair of four-panel screens in the Mitsui Bunko, Tokyo, records the wedding procession of Tofukumon'in in a series of horizontal, handscroll-like bands. The screens shown here may be unique in that they depict the procession in both halves of the pair: officials in the lower left corner of the right screen, in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace, where the emperor waits unseen to greet his bride, carry boxes with the three-leaf heartvine Tokugawa crest decorating red textile wrappings. The extensive use of the Imperial chrysanthemum in relief within the gold clouds is unusual.
The closest example compositionally may be the screens in the Shimane Prefectural. Museum of Art, Matsue (formerly in the collection of the Kodera family (see Miyeko Murase, Turning Point [New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007), pl. 119). The Shimane screen highlights Seiganji, a Kyoto temple that is also prominent in the present example at the center of the right screen. Seiganji was a huge Pure Land Temple, with an Amida Hall, a pagoda and various additional buildings, located just west of the Kamo River between Sanjo and Shijo avenues, in what is now the heart of Kyoto's shopping district. The temple was a bustling and popular hub of activity in the early Edo period.
Hairstyles and clothing are features that place the screen in the 1620s-30s. For common women, the hair is tied behind the head; the kosode, or kimono, have rather simple, all-over patterns, sometimes divided into horizontal registers (like kata-suso/shoulder-hem); there are also a few men dressed in elements of European clothing (pantaloons, for example) in the Gion Festival parade on the right screen; this sort of fashion is basically out after mid-century. There are other indicators that can give a general sense of the date: there is a mixture of one- and two-story houses, reflecting the artist's effort to portray the city's increasing prosperity; the torii at Gion Shrine is red, and thus made of wood, and so not the stone one of 1646 (which is depicted in later screens and still stands). One other important clue to the date is the architecture of the Imperial Palace: it includes a gate on the south side (just visible between two clouds), which indicates that it postdates the Keicho-era refurbishments of 1614. For an in-depth study of views of Kyoto, see Matthew Philip McKelway, Capitalscapes: Folding Screens and Political Imagination in Late Medieval Kyoto (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006).