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Battle of Awazugahara, from The Tale of the Heike

Battle of Awazugahara, from The Tale of the Heike, approx. 1650–1700, Edo period (1615–1868), Six-panel folding screen; ink, colors, and gold on paper. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60D60+

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This scene illustrates an episode from the chapter “The End of the Life of Kiso Yoshinaka” in The Tale of the Heike, a thirteenth-century recounting of the wars between two powerful clans, the Heike and the Genji (also called the Taira and the Minamoto). By the time this painting was made, important episodes from The Tale of the Heike such as this one were widely familiar and had become popular subjects for paintings.

Here Tomoe, a heroic woman, has donned armor and entered into battle to protect her beloved, Kiso Yoshinaka, a cousin of Minamoto Yoritomo, who would become the first shogun of the Minamoto clan. Tomoe has just pulled her enemy from his horse and, holding him across her saddle, is preparing to slit his throat.

In this superb example from the warrior-painting genre, the lively figures of the warriors are set against a grand gold background. The simplicity of this background helps focus the viewer’s attention on the actions of the main figures.

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