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Depictions of the Journey to the Heavenly Realm in Early Modern Catholic and Japanese Buddhist Iconography

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This article works to identify an intersection of the Catholic and Buddhist pictorial traditions with regard to the symbolism of the journey to the spiritual world. In both Christian and Buddhist traditions, the river/ ocean is a popular symbol that designates the border between this world and the other world. A work of western-inspired Japanese folding screens known as Yōjin Sōgakuzu (Europeans Playing Music) is an outstanding example that makes use of the symbolism of the river to allude to one’s pilgrimage to the other world in the guise of a secular waterfront scene. The folding screens were painted in the seventeenth century by Japanese artists who were affiliated with the art studio founded by the Jesuits. An investigation of European sources of the painting will show how the painters modified the famous Catholic iconography of “The Ship of the Church” to match the taste of the Japanese patrons of the time. Further, comparisons with other Japanese paintings that similarly deal with the theme of the river will show that such secular scenes of waterfront leisure could demonstrate to the Japanese audience the life in the world beyond, as well as a journey to that world they anticipated.

Affiliations: 1: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture


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