February 06, 2014
June 01, 2014
Honolulu Museum of Art
Of all the materials used in the arts, perhaps none is as sumptuous, and carries as much significance as gold. Organized in honor of the 30th anniversary of the elegant Halekulani luxury resort, the exhibition Light From Shadow: Gold in Japanese Art includes several of the most important Japanese works of art in the museum's collection, ranging from early Buddhist art to later Japanese paintings—all rich with gold.
In Japan, gold has had a close connection with the imperial court since antiquity. The introduction of Buddhism added new layers of meaning: sutras described the Buddha, who came from a noble background, as having skin of gold, which immediately found resonance with the royal associations of the precious metal already familiar to the Japanese elite. Gold was used generously in Buddhist art for depictions of the highest deities, first in sculpture and later in painting. A superb example of gold in Buddhist painting is the museum's The Descent of Amida, done during the full flowering of Buddhist art during the Kamakura period (1185–1336), which makes extensive use of the intricate cut-gold (kirigane) technique for extremely fine details.
Over time, gold also came to be used for secular paintings, especially on screens. The use of gold on screens served a practical function; the rooms of traditional wood frame buildings often were quite dark, and gold backgrounds on screen paintings introduced a reflective surface that added light. Gold was used in many different traditions of painting, including the genre paintings that formed the foundations for later ukiyo-e, of which the museum’s 17th-century Merrymaking Under the Cherry Blossoms is an especially fine and early example.