Art: Screens Against the Wind

Folding painted screens are an integral part of Japanese architectural thought: they occupy a shadow line between architecture and decoration. These delicate panels of rice paper stretched on lacquered frames, held together by paper or leather hinges, were the remote ancestors of today's plebeian room dividers and office partitions. Their name, byōbu, means "protection from wind." From the 7th century, when the first byōbu were introduced from China, the art of screen painting absorbed the best talents in Japan. Perhaps because, being in everyday domestic use, they were more liable to damage than...

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