Design Motifs

By Saburō Mizoguchi; Louise Allison Cort | Go to book overview

Introduction

A CULTURED MAN considers with care the appearance of the clothing, furnishings, and utensils he uses, for he realizes that they are but extensions of his own personality. Primitive people are no less concerned with the appearance of their personal belongings and take pains in ornamenting them. Most people today select their possessions with the hope that, in addition to serving the functions for which they were designed, they will be attractive to look at; in the process of selecting a particular object, people often reject many before finding one that pleases them. And yet, overwhelmed by the deluge of standardized patterns and colors that result from mass production, we may fast be approaching a point where fine decoration loses all powers of attraction for us.

Artists and craftsmen throughout Japanese history have applied their skills to the developing of pleasing and meaningful decorative motifs, and they have perfected techniques of carving, painting, lacquering, dyeing, and weaving to give permanent expression to their favorite motifs. Utilizing these designs and techniques, they enhanced the appearance of religious articles as well as the material objects of everyday life, they ornamented every element of their surroundings and embellished every feature of their architecture.

The design illustrated in Plate 55 is perhaps representative of the attitudes of Japanese people toward certain decorative motifs. The picture shows part of the cover of the Jinki-bon sutra scroll, one of thirty-three such scrolls presented in 1164 to the Itsukushima Shrine by the powerful Taira family. Commonly known as the Taira Dedicatory Sutras and designated national treasures, these scrolls are an extraordinary treasury of design motifs popular during the Heian Period. Contained in a case that magnificently decorated in gold and silver the Jinki-bon scroll is fastened with a cord braided of threads of five colors. In a purely functional sense, plain white paper would certainly have sufficed for the copying of the sutras contained in the scroll. However, the artists responsible for producing the scrolls preferred to decorate their paper with a profuse variety of patterns and rich, colorful embellishments. In addition, the outer surfaces of the scrolls were covered with glorious ornamentation. Painted in delicate colors is the pattern of flowers contained within a horizontal lattice known as the kikkǭ-hanabishi (foliate diamonds in "tortoise shell" lattice) motif. A favorite design pattern of the Heian aristocracy, the kikkǭ hanabishi in this lovely rendering in gold, silver, and blue on a copper-green ground

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