The Gion Festival marking the onset of summer in Kyoto boasts a long tradition originating in the Heian period with a ritual (goryō-e) aimed at exorcising malevolent spirits causing epidemics. The highlights of the festival are the transfer of sacred palanquins from the Yasaka (Gion) Shrine and the procession of the festival floats. The screen on the viewer’s right represents the procession of the festival floats (yamaboko), which was held on the seventh day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar; this section of the festival is known as saki matsuri, or the “first-festival”. The screen on the left represents ato matsuri, or the “later festival”, which was held on the fourteenth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar. In the right screen, the procession begins with the halberd (naginata) float, followed by the Ashikariyama, Uradeyama floats, and more to end with Iwatoyama and Funehoko floats, for a total of twenty-three sacred floats. The procession depicted in the screen to the left comprises ten yamahoko and begins with the Hashi Benkei float, immediately followed by the Hachiman float, the Kuronushi float, and then ends with Gaisen float.
The screens are in a remarkably good state of preservation, and the balance of color with the gold background is truly beautiful. The artist spared no effort in portraying the ambience of festival; the faces and robes of the people populating the screens are all distinct. The superiority of the realization, the quality of the painting, and the gold foil all indicate this was commissioned by one of standing. The identification tags scattered throughout the screens, as well as the subject represented suggest a member of the military class, one convincing hypothesis being that it may have been Itakura Shigemune (1586–1657), the Edo bakufu’s representative in Kyoto. In the middle of the second panel of the screen to the left, a group sits on a red carpet in front of a gate marked by a note identifying them as the “Seikan-ji official shogunal magistrates to the imperial court”. Scholars believe this is Muneshige and his retinue.
The identity of the painter remains unclear and is the subject of future research. Nevertheless, some scholars have suggested it may have been Kaihō Yūsetsu (1598–1677), a Kyoto painter affiliated with a studio.