Tigers as a subject for painting became popular among Japanese artists as early as the 15th century when Chinese examples were brought to Japan. Within Zen monasteries, they became symbols of the earthbound spirit and were often paired with images of dragons, emblems of the soaring enlightened spirit. Among Japan's military elite, they were symbols of power, and artists often painted them among thick trunks of bamboo, a plant admired for its strength and resiliency. Within the context of an impressive reception hall, such large scale paintings contributed to the grandeur of the setting. Since tigers were not native to Japan, artists had to conjecture how they actually looked based on imported hides. As a result, they often appear to be overgrown domestic cats.
Kano_ Tsunenobu was as official painter (goyo_-eshi) for the Tokugawa shoguns and a leading artist during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He became head of the Kyoto branch of the Kano_ School and was commissioned by the emperor to decorate the imperial palace.