Suiko (552-645). – The first truly historical era of Japan takes its name from an empress, under which cultural relations with the continent became extraordinarily intense. The Chinese influence was so strong during this period that one can even speak of a Chinese art in Japan. Chinese missionaries were spreading Buddhism in the country at this time: the old and primitive naturist religion of Shintoism, which abhorred the painted or sculpted image, declined more and more, without however disappearing completely. Shintoism, whose importance in the development of Japanese art was minimal due to the lack of use of images, was succeeded by Buddhism which instead has a very great one, due to the forces that were released by it.
In the plastic, from the beginning, there is no lack of inscriptions with the name of the artist and dates. A first-rate artist was undoubtedly Tori Busshi with whom we can reconnect a whole series of grandiose works, mostly preserved in the shrine of Hōryūji near Nara. Wood and bronze were the preferred materials. The formal elements, similar in all the figures of the Buddhist pantheon, repeat with delay those of China of the era of the six dynasties (5th and 6th centuries): solemnity and ritual prescriptions are essential. The folds of the garments overlap in rhythmic cascades; the front is rigid; but there is also – as in the Chinese models – a refined yet primitive elegance. Generally, the best sculptures of this period can be considered among the most notable works of every age and
Already during the Suiko era we find the factors of art that had to develop in the second half of the century. VII and to which numerous small bronze objects belong, as well as the most beautiful of the wooden statuettes of this era, with still geometric ways in the folds of the garments, but animated by the tendency towards greater naturalness and by a latent life that emerges even inside the material in a contrast, a symptom of the mutual interpenetration of the spirit of two eras, which forms the charm of that work of art.
According to Watchtutorials, there is no shortage of examples of the painting of this period. Worthy of mention, in addition to a figured fabric, the famous casket of Tamamushi (Hōryūji temple) also derived from a Chinese specimen – Tunhuang frescoes – but superior to the model.
The oldest monuments of Buddhist architecture in Japan are located in the vicinity of Nara; they are the golden hall (kond ō), the inner portal (ch ū mon) and the pagoda of the sacred enclosure of the Hōryuji and finally the pagodas of the two small adjacent temples, Hōrinji and Hōkiji. Only the pagoda – destined, according to a use derived from India, to preserve relics – is clearly vertical in structure; in all other constructions, however, the horizontal line dominates, giving the roof an exceptional importance. The portal of Hōryūji, divided into three floors, already has that slight curve of the roof characteristic for China from the century. V onwards. The construction is made of wood except for the stone base and the brick roof, as is usually the case in all Buddhist temples. The interstices are closed by laths intertwined and cemented with white clay. The columns supporting the roof terminate in two supports, typical, in their simplicity, for the primitive period. They are also found in pagodas. That of Hōrvūji has five overlapping roofs, those of Hōrinji and Hōkiji only three. The interior, on the other hand, has little architectural interest; in the “golden hall” of the Hōryūji the venerated statues are enclosed on a base, dense and pressed together.
Heian (784-876). – Under this name, which was that of the new capital, Kyōto (or Heian), different stylistic eras are united. In the sculptures of the Kōnin (810-823) and Jōgwan (859-876) eras there is a tendency to deform reality (which we have already seen in the advanced T’ang era and whose beginning already falls in the Nara era). As in Europe in the late Baroque, so also here the forms accumulate, the figures swell, the face stiffens into a mask, not devoid of grandeur, but inexpressive, while heads and arms multiply, to embody the various aspects and carry the various attributes of divinity. The material also changes: mainly wood is preferred.
In the Buddhist world new scary images arise, first of all the Fudo, with the sword and the snare: due to the new sects, which imported the symbols of the Indian pantheon, among which the main one was the mystical Shingon sect spread in Japan from numerous pilgrims returning from China, and above all from the famous Kōbō Daishi. Many works of art are attributed to the leaders of the sect.
This last detail is characteristic of the new place that art and above all painting has in society: priests and courtiers dedicate themselves to it. To the sec. IX belongs to one of the greatest names in the history of Japanese art, the painter Kose no Kanaoka, whose activity unfortunately we can only get an idea of through the works of his school and the uninterrupted tradition that belongs to him. An ever-repeated representation from the Heian era onwards is the mandara, the oldest example of which dates back to the year 621, carried by Lamaism, or Tibetan Buddhism. It wanted to guide the spirit to meditation by means of certain lines and colors; and every detail has a symbolic meaning in it. Sehematic representations were preferred, and above all those of the Western Paradise in whose center stands Amida Buddha, the savior of believers. But more than in these works, in which religious content predominates over artistic expression jammed by almost immutable formulas, the process of liberation from Chinese artistic hegemony takes place in landscape painting.
The architecture of the mystical sects, which constitute the predominant element in the culture of this epoch, is not without its own character. To inhabited places it preferred the peaks of the mountains, where however it was forced to give up the regularity and symmetry of Chinese-style buildings to adapt the extensive buildings to the accidental terrain. On Mount Kōya, thanks to the great patriarch Kōbō Daishi, the first convent annexed to a temple was built, a nucleus around which an entire sacred city was to develop, whose place in the history of Japanese art is very important. The Murōii, a building in the Yamato famous for its well-preserved frescoes, is also inspired by what is the essential characteristic of the architecture of the century. IX: the