Gallery Connections: Temples in Eastern Kyoto, Part One

Join us here on the Kimbell’s new education blog for “Gallery Connections,” where we will regularly highlight artworks in the Museum’s permanent collection.

How often do you pull out your camera or phone to document some aspect of your life? Today, it’s often difficult to imagine what we did before the invention of photography.


This Japanese folding screen is one example of how earlier cultures captured the experience of everyday life in a single moment. The ancient city of Kyoto (located in the central part of the island of Honshu) spans six panels and is viewed as if from above—a bird’s-eye perspective. Folding screens were often produced in pairs. This example focuses on an area along the southeastern edge of the city; its sibling might have shown well-known sites from the western side of town.

This expansive cityscape is organized as a series of vignettes interspersed with lush greenery and low-hanging clouds applied in gold leaf. Each scene tells a different story in exceptional detail about life in and around this important urban center—from the carefully rendered temples and homes to the beautiful fabrics worn by city dwellers and visitors. Thinking in terms of modern-day photography, this artwork provides a panoramic view that also contains incredible close-ups!

In case you are marveling at those golden clouds, they also play an important compositional role. The two main structures shown, Kiyomizu-dera (the temple on piers) and the Hokoku Jinja shrine (the distinctive black-lacquered building), are not actually located close to each other. The flat cloud shapes imply greater distances between those structures, so they may both still appear on a single screen.

Can you think of other examples that show how artists from across the world immortalized a “day in the life” before cameras came onto the scene? 

In the meantime, check back for future Friday posts in which we will explore this scene in greater detail, including the historic temple near the center and the shop-lined streets with merchants and shoppers.