Iwasa Matabei, Monk Mongaku, from Heike Monogatari ('Tale of the Heike')


British Museum

British Museum

This dramatic scene is taken from Heike monogatari ('Tale of the Heike'), by far the most important of the gunki-mono ('war tales') that were composed during the military regimes of the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1568) periods. It dealt with the brief period of rule by the Taira clan, and their war against the Minamoto clan, in which they were utterly defeated - events of the second half of the twelfth century.

Book 5, Kanjin-chō ('The Subscription List'), tells of the devout monk Mongaku who vowed to restore Jingōji temple, and travelled around collecting subscriptions to this end. When refused entrance to the palace of the Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1053-1129), he burst in and disrupted the musical entertainment taking place. The present scroll depicts Lieutenant Sukeyuki of the palace guards, who has challenged the intruder, being thrown to the floor, his hat knocked from his head. Mongaku wields in his left hand the scroll requesting contributions, and in his right a dagger. In the story, he was eventually overcome and jailed for his offence.

The painting conveys the drama of the scene most effectively, and each figure reacts with energy and movement. Matabei (1578-1650) specialized in historic scenes and illustrations of classical tales, and his studio produced many such pictures.

The painting has no signature. The seals read 'Dō' and 'Shōi (Katsumochi)'.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Iwasa Matabei, Monk Mongaku, from Heike Monogatari ('Tale of the Heike')
  • Date Created: 1600/1699
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 35.90cm; Width: 57.80cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted
  • Subject: literature
  • Registration number: 1946,0209,0.32
  • Production place: Painted in Japan
  • Producer: Claimed to be by Matabei, Iwasa
  • Period/culture: Edo Period
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Morrison, Arthur


Translate with Google