Materials & Techniques

Folding screens (Byōbu)

There are three types of Japanese screens: single panel wooden screens, sliding screens, and multi-panel folding screens (byōbu) . Single panel screens or tsuitate are low, free-standing, and non-folding. The panel is typically made of wood, paper, or silk. Sliding screens developed in the Heian period (794-1185 CE) as semi-permanent architectural features. Fusuma, constructed with paper stretched over a wooden lattice, became the most widespread form of this type of screen. Multi-panel screens or byōbu, often designed in pairs, were used as temporary, portable partitions or enclosures. Byōbu (the characters of which mean "protection" and "wind") were found in Japan since at least the 7th century CE. Although there are no surviving examples of screens from these earlier times, literature and paintings reveal that byōbu became the most common format for yamatoe (Japanese style painting) with the focus on native arts that characterized the Heian period.

In the 14th century, the development of paper hinges allowed artists to treat the multiple panels of byōbu as a continuous painting surface. From the Muromachi period (1333-1573) on, byōbu, along with fusuma, became the most important formats for painters. In the Muromachi period, the Ashikaga shoguns encouraged Chinese style painting (karae), and it received greater prominence than Japanese style painting. However, with the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603) came various painting styles and subject matter and the application of gold. Azuchi-Momoyama artists were not the inventors of gold application. Dating back to the 14th century, it became a fashion in the later period as it served the purposes of both helping to illuminate the interiors of palatial chambers and demonstrating the wealth and power of patrons. Artists painted screens for castles, palaces, and temples, and the Azuchi-Momoyama is considered the height of folding screens. Artists continued traditions from this period into the Edo period (1603-1868).

Drawn from

  • Christine Guth, "Screen: East Asia," in_ Oxford Art Online, _http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T077178?q=byobu&search=quick&pos=31&_start=26%20\l%20firsthit%20\t%20_blank. Accessed April 20, 2015.

  • Miyeko Murase, Byobu: Japanese Screens from New York Collections (New York: The Asia Society, Inc., 1971), 9-16.

  • Emily J. Sano, DMA Unpublished material, 1996.