Kano Eitoku (狩野永徳)

Eitoku KANO (February 16, 1543 - October 12, 1590) was a painter who lived during the Azuchi-Momoyama period. He was a leading painter of the Kano school (a painting school that served as a focal point for the art circles of Japan from the Muromachi period through to the Edo period) and remains one of the best-known painters in the history of Japanese art. Notable extant works of his include "Karajishi-zu Byobu" (a folding screen with a painting depicting karajishi, which is the Japanese word for Chinese lions), "Rakuchu Rakugai-zu" (a painting depicting Kyoto and its surroundings) and "Juko-in Shohekiga" (a wall painting at the Juko-in Temple).


Eitoku was a son of Shoei KANO and was also a grandson of Motonobu KANO. Eitoku was his hogo (a Buddhist name), and Genshiro and Kuninobu were his popular name and real name, respectively.

As the head of Kano school, Eitoku served Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who took control of the country, and he created wall paintings for places such as Azuchi-jo Castle, Jurakudai residence and Osaka-jo Castle. Many of the representative achievements through which Eitoku displayed his talents perished together with the buildings that housed them, and the existing works considered to be genuine are relatively few in number. Eitoku is known for his magnificent and bold paintings (called 'Taiga') such as "Karajishi-zu Byobu" and "Hinoki-zu" (Japanese cypress tree), but he is considered to have created 'Saiga' (detailed paintings) too (described in "Honcho Gashi"). One of his representative works that is still extant, "Uesugi-bon Rakuchu Rakugai-zu," shows that he excelled in detailed paintings.


In 1543, Eitoku, the first son of Shoei KANO, was born. The first record that described Eitoku's achievements was an entry in "Tokitsugu Kyoki" (Dairy of Tokitsugu YAMASHINA) written on January 29, 1552; according to that record, Hogen KANO (Motonobu KANO) took his grandson to have an audience with Shogun Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, and this 'grandson' is thought to be Eitoku at the age of 10 (by the traditional Japanese system).

As for "Uesugi-bon Rakuchu Rakugai-zu," one of his representative works, although there are various views on its patronage, date of creation, and the date of landscape it depicts, it is now considered to have been completed in 1565 according to scholarship at the end of the 20th century. Eitoku was 23 years old at the time. According to the "Uesugi Nenpu" (Uesugi's chronological record), Nobunaga ODA gave this folding screen painting to Kenshin UESUGI in 1574.

Also, he was closely-linked to the Konoe family, the head of Gosekke (five families whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku) and drew wall paintings for Sakihisa KONOE's residence in 1567 and 1568 (described in "Tokitsugu Kyoki").

According to "Shincho Koki" (in the biography of Nobunaga ODA), he drew wall paintings for Azuchi-jo Castle from 1576 through 1579, then for Osaka-jo Castle and Jurakudai residence as well in 1583 and 1586 respectively; in this way, he was given important posts by lords such as Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.

In 1589, he was commissioned to make a wall painting for Emperor Goyozei's Imperial palace, then in 1590, drew a wall painting of Katsuranomiya. In September of the same year, Eitoku became ill during the creation of the ceiling painting Tofuku-ji Hatto (Dharma Hall of Tofuku-ji Temple), and passed away shortly thereafter. The cause of his death is what we would call overworking today. The ceiling painting of Tofuku-ji Hatto was completed by a disciple, Sanraku KANO, based on Eitoku's preliminary sketch, but it is not extant.

Representative works

Juko-in Shohekiga (national treasure) - Juko-in, Kyoto City

Juko-in is a subtemple of Daitoku-ji Temple, and Eitoku drew the wall painting of the abbot's chamber together with his father, Shoei. Eitoku was commissioned to make 16 panels of 'Kacho-zu' (depicting flowers and birds) and 8 panels of 'Kinki Shoga-zu' (depicting the four accomplishments: the lute, the game of go, calligraphy, and painting). Originally it was considered to have been created in 1566 when Juko-in Temple was built and Eitoku was 24, but it is now considered to have been created in 1583, much later than was previously theorized, due to investigations into the painting style and inquiry into the age of abbot's chamber itself. Reproductions have been made at regular intervals since 2006, and the original paintings will be housed in Kyoto National Museum.

Rakuchu Rakugai-zu (national treasure) - Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum

This is a representative Rakuchu Rakugai-zu portraying Rakuchu (the center of Kyoto) and Rakugai (a suburb) from above, and it is said that this painting was drawn by Eitoku before 1565 and given to Kenshin UESUGI by Nobunaga ODA in 1574. Also, this is important as an historical record, and it is said that 2,500 people were portrayed in this screen painting. There are various theories about its date of creation because of the city landscape depicted. Once, a theory espousing that the landscape depicted on the screen was of 1547 (when Eitoku was 5 years old) and concluding that 'The painting is not a work of Eitoku' caused controversy, but this theory is mostly discredited today since the date of the landscape depicted and the date of creation do not always correspond with each other. Later, a theory claiming that this painting was drawn by Eitoku, ordered by Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA and completed in 1565 (when Eitoku was 23 years old) became dogmatic due to the research of the historian Katsuya SETA, and Hideo KURODA who wrote "Nazotoki Rakuchu Rakugaizu" (Unraveling the mysteries of Rakuchu Rakugai-zu).

Karajishi-zu Byobu - Kunaicho Sannomaru Shozokan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections)
It is said that Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI gave this painting to the Mori family in 1582 (when Eitoku was 40 years old), but this has not been confirmed. It was dedicated to the Imperial family during the Meiji period. There is a note written by Tanyu KANO (a grandson of Eitoku) explaining that it is a work of Eitoku's.

These three paintings have come to be considered works of Eitoku, and there is little disagreement about this among art historians.

In the "KANO EITOKU Special Exhibition" (Kyoto National Museum, 2007), the following paintings are treated as works of Eitoku.

A wall painting at Ohojo of Nanzen-ji Temple (important cultural property) - Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto City

This is a collaborative work of the Kano school (c. 1586-1591), and Gunsen-zu is said most likely to have been drawn by Eitoku.

Hinoki-zu Byobu (national treasure) - Tokyo National Museum

A painting attributed to Eitoku.
Painted around 1590. In the former collection of the Katsuranomiya family
It is said that this painting was originally a wall painting in Hachijonomiya mansion.

Kyoyu Soho-zu (Xuyou and Chaofu) (important cultural property) - Tokyo National Museum

A painting attributed to Eitoku. Shihon Bokuga (monochrome ink painting on paper), consisted of 2 scroll paintings.

Sennin Koshi-zu Byobu (folding screen with painting of a hermit) (important cultural property) - Kyoto National Museum

A painting attributed to Eitoku. Originally, it was said to be a wall painting of the subtemple of Kennin-ji Temple.

Rakugai Meisho Yuraku-zu Byobu (folding screen with painting of amusements at notable locations around Kyoto), a pair of 4 fold screens - private collection

In July 2005, it was found in an antique dealer in Kyoto (reported on September 13, 2006 in The Asahi Shimbun). Neither the painter's seal nor his signature is present, but it is drawn in a style similar to that of Uesugi-bon Rakuchu Rakugai-zu.

Kacho-zu Oshiebari Byobu (folding screen pasted with pictures of flowers and birds), a pair of 6 fold screens - private collection

Ink painting of a small bird on Cape jasmine tree - private collection

Picture of Roraishi - Yamaguchi Kikuyake Jutaku Hozonkai (Kikuyake Jutaku Preservation Foundation, Yamaguchi Prefecture)

Nijushiko-zu Byobu (folding screen with painting depicting 24 filial figures), a pair of 6 fold screens - Fukuoka City Museum

Shiki Sansui-zu (Landscape of the four seasons), a pair of 6 fold screens - Kosetsu Museum of Art

A painting attributed to Eitoku (left panel only).

Toto Tenjin-zu (Tenjin who went to China) - Joko-ji Temple, Seto City

Portrait of KAKIMOTO no Hitomaro - The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma

A wall painting at the former reception hall of Nikkoin Temple - Arc-en-Ciel Foundation

Portrait of Nobunaga ODA - Daitoku-ji Temple

Lost works

A wall painting at Azuchi-jo Castle (painted in 1576)

A wall painting at Osaka-jo Castle (painted in 1585)

A wall painting at Jurakudai residence (painted in 1587)

A wall painting at Tenzui-ji Temple (painted in 1588)
Tenzui-ji Temple was built by Hideyoshi on the grounds of Daitoku-ji Temple in 1874, and when Tenzui-ji Temple was abandoned the wall painting perished together with the building.

Missing works

Azuchi-jo no zu (a folding screen with a painting of Azuchi-jo Castle) (painted before 1581)

In 1581, Nobunaga ODA gave Azuchi-jo no zu Byobu to a missionary by the name of Alessandro Valignano, who visited Azuchi-jo Castle. This folding screen painting is considered to have been drawn by Eitoku. This folding screen painting was exhibited in the castle town of Azuchi and Kyo, Capital, then brought to Europe by envoy during the Tensho era and then dedicated to the Pope in the Vatican. It is said that the Pope displayed the folding screen painting in the hallway that connected his residence and office, but the painting went missing after the Pope passed away.

Shiga Prefecture and Azuchi-cho conducted an investigation in the Vatica in 1984 and 2005 respectively, but the painting was not found.

[Original Japanese]