"The portraits of three figures (designated as national treasures) held by Jingoji temple in Kyoto have long been thought to depict the founder of the Kamakura Bakufunate, Minamoto no Yoritomo, Taira no Kiyomori`s son Shigemori, and an aristocrat of the late Heian period, Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi. However, debate about the true identity of the figures in the portraits has continued ever since the art historian Yonekura Michio declared in 1995 that the portrait of Shigemori was in fact the founder of the Muromachi Bakufunate Ashikaga Takauji, that of Yorimoto was Takauji`s younger brother Tadayoshi, while that of Mitsuyoshi was in fact Takauji`s son Yoshiakira. Now a new work by Rissho University Professor Kuroda Hideo (a historic portraiture critic) titled `What are the three portraits of Jingoji?` (国宝神護寺三像とは何か) (Kadokawa Books) has cast a new stone into the debate. It follows the reasoning behind the creation of the portrait reportedly of Yoritomo from the point of view of Tadayoshi.
The portrait of Yoritomo was recently put on public display as part of a special exhibition titled `Yoritomo and Chogen` (which runs until September 17) and sponsored by the Nara National Museum. The portrait itself, which depicts a figure in courtly dress and exudes grandeur, is 1.4m long by 1.1m wide, and dominates a room with its presence.
According to Jingoji temple records, there exists three portraits of three figures created by the master portrait artist of the late Heian-early Kamakura era, Fujiwara no Takanobu. The three portraits held by the temple, which are almost the same size and drawn upon a single frame of silk, are thought to be the portraits referred to in the records. However according to Professor Kuroda`s theory, the three portraits were in fact created in the 14th century, and bases this upon a historical record which says that Tadayoshi donated a portrait of himself and that of his brother Takauji to the temple in 1345.
To further substantiate this theory, Professor Kuroda points out that upon an examination of the portraits, all three of them use silk the thickness of which was common from the 14th century onwards, and so refutes the original theory that they were works of the Kamakura period. He also pays particular attention to a record detailing dialogue held between Tadayoshi and the Zen priest Muso Soseki (夢窓疎石) titled `the Muchu Monto Shu` (or Collection of Dialogues within a Dream).
Muso began his dialogues with Tadayoshi in order to instruct him in the canon of Buddhist law as outlined by Prince Shotoku, and spoke of a portrait that depicted both the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, Kukai, together with the protective deity of the Genji clan Hachiman Daibosatsu, which was known as the `Tagai no Miei` (互いの御影) (The Shared Influence) and was housed within Jingoji temple. Professor Kuroda says that Tadayoshi took this example, and had himself painted as Kukai, the latter manifestation of Prince Shotoku, while he had Takauji depicted as the guardian and war god Hachiman, and then donated the portraits to Jingoji as a offering to ensure the continuation of the dual nature of the Ashikaga dynasty.
As for the portrait reportedly of Mitsuyoshi, the temporary victory afforded to Tadayoshi during his conflict with Takauji during the Kanno War (1350-1352) gave him all the incentive to donate a new portrait of Yoshiakira to the temple in order to replace that of Takauji. In the early stages of the Muromachi Bakufunate, Takauji was responsible for military matters while Tadayoshi took care of political and administrative matters. On the recommendation of Muso, Tadayoshi had affiliates of Zen temple Ankokuji built throughout the nation. Professor Kuroda theorizes that the portrait of Mitsuyoshi is inferior to the previous two portraits, reflecting the time and circumstances under which it was made.
However Professor Kuroda`s theories have been disputed by those who point out that the only direct proof that he uses to substantiate his claim is a single record. Hence the Yoritomo theory for the portraits remains strong. The exhibition in Nara also displays a portrait of Yoritomo belonging to Seifukuji of Fukuoka. Records clearly state that this portrait is that of Minamoto no Yoritomo, and was donated to Jingoji in 1698. So at the very least, this particular portrait is definitely that of Yoritomo.
Tadayoshi was eventually defeated by his elder brother and killed, yet fundamental questions still remain as to why the figures depicted in such masterworks would be forgotten. Professor Kuroda says that he welcomes criticism and alternate theories for the portraits, and expects that the debate will only heat up from here on in.
(Culture Bureau, Hayakawa Yasuo)