Vintage Japanese shikishi sumi-e painting featuring the image of a religious prayer plaque. This form of painting is also sometimes called simply “wash” painting and in Japanese is called sumi-e or suibokuga painting. Using only brush-applied black ink on paper this type of painting was introduced into Japan in the 14th century by Zen Buddhist monks visiting from China. This type of art is especially well suited to Japanese tastes which tend toward subtle depictions of life and nature often accented with poetry written in beautiful calligraphy.
Plaques such as the one depicted in this art piece are called ema in Japan where they are traditionally used by believers to communicate their wishes and thanks to deities worshiped at Shinto shrines. Shinto is the native religion of Japan and an animist system supporting a pantheon of innumerable major and minor gods. Believers often make donations to the shrines they visit, and in the past wealthy devotees might show their appreciation and respect through the gift of a live horse. Horses were highly valued in old Japan and over time less well-to-do believers began offering their prayers on wooden plaques which featured a painted image of a horse. The word ema in fact translates into English as “horse picture”. Eventually the images on Ema began to reflect a wider range of subjects, with new favorites being representations of the animals within the Oriental zodiac as well as creatures associated with shrine deities; such as the magical fox who acts as the messenger for the powerful god of the rice harvest, Inari. To use an ema the believer must first make or, more commonly, buy an ema from a Shinto shrine. The believer then writes his prayer onto the board and brings it to the shrine to be hung upon a special rack set out for this purpose. Ema remain very popular in Japan where they are used by believers during every stage of life; from the student praying for success in schools exams, to young married couples hoping for children as well as the elderly offering thanks for a full and blessed life.
About the Listed Item
This Japanese painting (nihonga) dates from the early to mid Japanese Showa period (1926-1989) and features the image of a wild board (inoshishi). The painting was done on a rectangular sheet of stiff Japanese shikishi paper with gold trim at the edges. This nihonga painting is in poor to fair condition with some marks, stains and creases and is a wonderful candidate for framing and display.
Height: 10.5 inches (27.0 centimeters)
Width: 9.4 inches (24.0 centimeters)
item code: R3S1B1-0003320
category code: nihonga
ship code: shikishihako