Japan art and self-portrait while dying: Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650)

Japan art and self-portrait while dying: Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650) was born during the warring period of the sixteenth century. This period eventually culminated in the Edo Period (Tokugawa Period). Edo began in 1603 and was replaced by the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Interestingly, in one stunning art piece by Matabei, he produces an unusual self-portrait for this period in Japanese art. Not only is this unusual, but the self-portrait was done by Matabei when he knew that death was near.

One can only imagine how he viewed this world because it was a time of internal intrigues and power concentration during the Edo Period. His father was caught up in the intrigues of the day. Hence, from being loyal to Oda Nobunaga under the auspices of Ikeda Katsumasa (Ikeda clan of Settsu Province) to being deemed a traitor by Nobunaga.

Thus the influence of his father Araki Murashige (1535-1586) was strong. Indeed, with his father being on the frontline of death given his military prowess, it is interesting to link this with his dying self-portrait. After all, this was also a powerful statement with the shadows of death being near.

His self-portrait shows a person at ease with the world. Perhaps Matabei believed that soon he was going back home to meet his ancestors given the influence of Shintoism. Or, given his knowledge of Buddhism, the next stage in the cycle of life was going to begin. Or a fusion of both.

Irrespective of the real motive, it was unusual for this period in Japan for artists to do self-portraits under such conditions. However, death poems were the norm. Therefore, Matabei might have linked this angle to his art.

The description of his art and delightful elaborate brush strokes provide a wealth of detail. Hence, his dying self-portrait is fitting for such a unique artist.


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