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Visual Narratology in the Illustrated Biography of Prince Shotoku in Medieval Japan

Tue, June 23, 9:00 to 10:55am, South Building, Floor: South, S1101


This paper aims to examine the Kamakura (1192-1333) social phenomena that gave rise to the boom in the devotional cult of Prince Shotoku, a semi-legendary regent of the Asuka period (538-710) in Japan, by surveying some examples of the Illustrated Biography of Prince Shotoku (Shotoku taishi eden) representing the visual narration of Prince Shotoku’s miraculous stories. Although the devotional cult was established in the Nara period, it became increasingly popular in the Kamakura period when the numerous works of Illustrated Biography were produced. Most of the works are based on the Concise Biography of Prince Shotoku (Shotoku taishi denryaku), a text said to be compiled by Fujiwara no Kanesuke (877-933) in 917. The Illustrated Biography is roughly divided into the following three categories; 1) pictorializing some miraculous stories randomly selected from the Concise Biography, 2) organizing the miraculous stories accorded to the chronological order in the Concise Biography, and 3) ignoring the biography and organizing the miraculous stories associated with four seasons. This paper contextualizes these differences, and analyzes the Illustrated Biography housed in Shiten’no-ji Temple in Osaka, in order to explore the relationship between the images and text. This version, which follows the convention of the second category, displays sixty-six episodes on six hanging scrolls. Then I will compare it with other versions of this painting theme to consider the circumstances under which they were produced, the meanings and functions of these visual narratives, and the logic, principles, and practices of narrative representation in Medieval Japan.