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The Socio-Political Functions of Japanese "Vengeful Spirit" Handscrolls, 1150-1230

Sumpter, Sara L. (2016) The Socio-Political Functions of Japanese "Vengeful Spirit" Handscrolls, 1150-1230. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The second half of the twelfth century witnessed a curious boom at the Heian Court in Japan—the production of illustrated handscrolls whose narratives centered on a specific type of historical figure. Within a span of fifty years or less, three such handscroll sets were produced: the Kibi Daijin nittō emaki, the Ban Dainagon emaki, and the Kitano Tenjin engi emaki. In each story, the protagonist is an aristocrat who had lived three-to-four-hundred years previous to the production of the handscroll set. Each of the men in question had died in exile, and each was—at one point or another—believed to have become a vengeful spirit. Moreover, in each case, the narrative presented in the handscroll differs from, or elides, the historical record. The Kibi Daijin nittō emaki presents an entirely fictional tale based only loosely on the lives of its protagonists; the Ban Dainagon emaki records a highly embellished version of a well-documented political scandal; and the Kitano Tenjin engi emaki constructs a mythology from the details of the life and death of one of the period’s most accomplished bureaucrats.

This dissertation explores the production of these three handscrolls—which I refer to as “vengeful spirit scrolls”—and focuses on the role of the re-imagining and redeployment of historical figures in these scrolls to processes of power consolidation in the late-twelfth and early-thirteenth centuries. Taking a thematic approach, I examine these handscrolls from the perspective of their role in early literary movements to reinvent historical figures, in contemporaneous perceptions of supernatural creatures, and in ritual practices such as spirit pacification rites. I also consider the scrolls from within the social context of the collapse of the traditional courtly power base at the end of the Heian period (794-1185) and beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In so doing, my project explores two main research questions: how handscrolls from this period reflect the sociopolitical changes that were ongoing during their production and how they might have been used by members of the courtier class to negotiate the intersection of temporal and non-temporal power.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sumpter, Sara L.sls106@pitt.eduSLS106
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGerhart, Karen M.kgerhart@pitt.eduKGERHART
Committee MemberLinduff, Katheryn M.linduff@pitt.eduLINDUFF
Committee MemberEllenbogen, Joshjme23@pitt.eduJME23
Committee MemberChilson, Clarkchilson@pitt.eduCHILSON
Date: 15 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 21 March 2016
Approval Date: 15 June 2016
Submission Date: 4 April 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 199
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Japanese art, narrative art, illustrated handscrolls, folktales, monster studies, Japanese history
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2016 20:37
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2021 05:15


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