Following his victory in the civil wars between his own Minamoto clan and the Taira clan in 1185, Yoritomo (1147-99) founded a new system of warrior rule in Kamakura. This ended a period of some 600 years of centralized authority of the imperial court at Kyoto.
Yoritomo is here shown seated on a tatami dais, wearing sokutai formal court costume and cap, and carrying a ceremonial board (shaku). The decorated hilt of a long sword (efu no tachi) juts forward from his waist. The inscription above in coloured cartouches celebrates his military prowess and political authority.
This is a copy of one of a set of three hanging scrolls (designated in Japan as 'National Treasures') preserved at Jingōji Temple in Kyoto. The three scrolls are traditionally said to depict Minamoto no Yoritomo, Taira no Shigemori and Fujiwara no Mitsuyoshi. According to tradition, they were painted by the court portraitist Fujiwara no Takanobu (1142-1205) or, alternatively, they may have been dedicated at the new Sentō'in sub-temple of Jingō-ji, founded about 1230. However, there has recently been a lively debate in Japan about the Jingō-ji scrolls. A new theory suggests that they may depict members of the succeeding Ashikaga dynasty: Ashikaga Tadayoshi, Ashikaga Takauji and Ashikaga Yoshiakira respectively. The theory also suggests that the paintings were donated to the temple by Tadayoshi in 1345.
The inscription on this copy, clearly identifying the sitter as Yoritomo, has been used to support the traditional attribution. However, recent conservation and analysis of this scroll in the Oka Studio at the Kyoto National Museum have revealed physical characteristics which suggest that the copy may have been made as late as the Edo period (1600-1868). The original identity of the sitter is still hotly debated.