Art Quiz: The Answer is Chinso

I knew nothing of Chinso, so here’s what I found from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Chinsō, also spelled Chinzō, in Japanese art, is a type of Buddhist portraiture developed especially by the Zen sect about 1200. Chinsō were official pictures of high ecclesiastics, usually posed seated in a chair and dressed in their official robes. These intimate portraits show great technical mastery and meticulous execution. Simple, sober colours give a highly refined harmony.

In Zen doctrine the portrait of a master was the most important type of painting. Zen monks sought illumination within their own spiritual experience, inspired by the teachings and deeds of their master, and when the monks completed their studies, they received a “diploma” in the form of a portrait of their master, who usually wrote a symbolic poem in the upper part of the picture.

Although I found many articles online referencing Asian art, Japanese art, and Buddhist art, it was difficult to find many examples of “chinso”. The art form, I learned, included both paintings and sculptures, such as this representation of the monk Chikotsu Dai’e.

For more information on Zen art, you might enjoy this article: What is Zen Art: An Introduction in 10 Japanese Masterpieces. The article tells a bit about Zen — which means “meditation” — but doesn’t specifically reference chinso portraiture.

You can view a few additional images at the following websites:

Asian Art Museum Online Collection – Portrait of Abbott Sengan

Japan Society – Portrait of Mokoan Shuyu

Kyoto National Museum – Portrait of Priest Enni

I hope you enjoyed today’s “Art Quiz” feature and that perhaps you learned a bit about Japanese art. I certainly did!


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