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Mounted Warrior

Unknown14th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

This warrior, dressed in armor and astride a black horse, carries a naked blade over his shoulder, and grips the reins in his left hand. There is no background. He is not wearing a helmet, his hair is dishevelled, and he has a broken arrow in his quiver. His large eyes gaze piercingly to his front, the details of his armor are carefully illustrated, and the coloring is truly beautiful. The horse’s nether quarters appear to be lowered, one of his front legs is raised in a spirited pose, and with his forelocks falling into his eyes, the painting exudes an atmosphere of movement. As the painting was being cleaned, conservators discovered that a bow in the warrior’s left hand had been erased.
Normally, with portraits used as objects of veneration, the figures are represented in static or still postures; however, this painting depicts the warrier if he were removed from a battle scene in an illustrated handscrol. The warrior is thus infused with the irresistible vigour of the battlefield. As the signature above the warrior is that of the second Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiakira (1330–1367), scholars have assumed that this portrait was executed before his death in 1367 ( Jōji 6). This is an early example of a painting representing a warrior wearing armor on horseback and differs considerably from stereotypical portraits of warriors that appear later. It thus indicates something of the conditions surrounding the establishment of the warrior portrait genre.
Given the semblance with the portrait of Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358) in Matsudaira Sadanobu’s Shūko jisshu (Collected Antiquities in Ten Categories), a catalogue of ancient art works with a preface dated in 1800 (Kansei 12), it had been assumed this was indeed a portrait of Takauji. Later, however, scholars noted the linked circles depicted on the sword at his waist and on the leather straps connecting the front saddle forks with the cantle, and recognizing also their similarity to the Kō family crest, advanced the theory that the warrior portrayed is either Kō no Moronao or his son, Moroakira (d. 1351). The identify of the warrior, nonetheless, remains unclear.

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