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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Shogunal Iconography in the Edo Period

Course Code:
15PARH007
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 1

The course will introduce students to the imageries of power deployed by the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) to sustain itself and its regime. Issues of propaganda will be examined, and also how a visual reticence (‘iconography of absence’) was used to support the state. This is a peculiarity of many East-Asian regimes. We will look at a wide range of materials, including painting, royal graves and town planning. The course will be divided into equal quarters, and will follow a progression outward from the main node of shogunal power: the city of Edo (Tokyo). Town planning and the shogunal castle within it will be considered. Secondarily, the wider outside world will be looked at. Third section will be painting per se, and finally will come the visual order of authoritative religious institutions. The course will have a marked sociological orientation. While there are no language prerequisites, students will be expected to become familiar with specialised technical terms relevant to the Edo-period Japanese case.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The course aims at giving students an opportunity to think critically about the uses of visual imagery to construct and maintain power. Issues of propaganda will be examined, but also how a visual reticence (‘iconography of absence’) can be used to support regimes. This is a peculiarity of many East-Asian regimes. We will look at a wide range of materials, including painting, royal graves, town planning. While there are no language prerequisites, students will be expected to become familiar with specialized technical terms relevant to the Edo-period Japanese case.

  • Students will become familiar with a wide range of concepts and themes as well as with many of the most salient icons and images. They will be challenged to rethink their notions of how visual culture can (and can not) support powerful regimes.
  • A slide test at the end of the term will encourage students to review and reinforce their visual memory.
  • One essay of 5,000 words will give students an opportunity to use library and online resources, and undertake detailed research on a subject of their choosing.
  • Students will receive guidance in class and in office hours on how to develop a thesis and strengthen the presentation of their arguments in written form.
  • Classroom discussions (non-assessed) on pre-announced topics will encourage students to gain confidence in expressing their thoughts on subjects they have read about outside of class.
  • By the end of the course, students should be equipped with analytical tools and conceptual frameworks that will allow them to pursue their own research interests with greater confidence. The course, therefore, would be suitable preparation for a student deciding to continue on the MPhil/PhD track.

Scope and syllabus

The course grows out of a previous and highly popular one. This half-unit course is offered in term 1 allowing progression for those who wish to study the Popular Practice in the Edo-period Arts course (also proposed herewith). It will complement other offerings in Art and Archaeology, especially those of Drs Carpenter & Kaner, who also propose switching teaching to half-units. Therefore MA students in any given year would have the options of taking courses on archaeology, ancient/medieval religious art, and early modern Japan.

The course will be divided into equal quarters, and will follow a progression outward from the main node of shogunal power: the city of Edo (Tokyo). Town planning and the shogunal castle within it will be considered. Secondarily, the wider outside world will be looked at. Third section will be painting per se, and finally will come the visual order of authoritative religious institutions.

Rough weekly breakdowns is:

  1. Introduction to the course and its themes
  2. The layout of Edo and its precedents
  3. Nihon-bashi (Edo’s centre)
  4. Daimyo mansions and gardens
  5. Famous sites
  6. Travel to Edo and through the Landscape
  7. Kano School painting
  8. Tosa and Rinpa School painting
  9. Official shogunal temples
  10. Shogunal mausolea
  11. Slide Test

Method of assessment

1 essay of 5,000 words = 75%/ slide test =25%

Suggested reading

Essential reading (for guidance: this is not a complete list)

  • T. Screech, The Shogun’s Painted Culture (London, 2000)
  • C. Andrew Gerstle (ed), 18th Century Japan (Sydney, 1989)
  • H. Ooms, Tokugawa Ideology (Princeton, 1985)
  • McClain & S. Oishi (eds), Tokugawa Japan (Tokyo, 1992)
  • H. Bolitho, Treasures among Men (New Haven, 1986)
  • N. Nouët, The Shogun’s City (Norbury, 1990)
  • G. Rozman, Urban Networks in Ch’ing China and Tokugawa Japan (Princeton, 1975)
  • G. Nitschke, Japanese Gardens (Cologne, 1991)
  • M. Yonemoto, Mapping Early Modern Japan (California, 2003)
  • J. Treganou, The Tôkaidô Road (London, 2003)