Nakatomi Kamako (614-669) also known as Fujiwara Kamatari, was an exceptionally important figure in Japanese history, an official who contributed greatly to political reform during his lifetime in the 7th century and who founded the Fujiwara family that would play a significant role in political and cultural affairs for centuries to come. The family name was granted by the emperor to Kamatari and his descendants at the end of his life, honored not only for his service to the throne but for his contributions and great generosity to the Japanese people. Buried originally in modern Takatsuki outside of Kyoto, Kamatari was reburied at the Danzan Shrine in Tōnomine (Nara) by his surviving son, the second son having been assassinated several years prior.
The two sons—one had become a priest, the other an official—are shown with their illustrious father in an image known as a Tōnomine Mandala, following a tradition of naming such icons after their place of dedication. Kamatari, since his burial at the shrine in Tōnomine, became a revered deified being with religious services held in his honor that continue yet today. The inscription on the lid of the painting’s old wooden box in fact reads, Tōnomine-gosinzō…. “Painting of the God of Tōnomine.” The history and traditions of many temples and shrines are recorded in pictorial form, known as engi, and such illustrations were created for Kamatari as well, beginning with his birth and continuing through his military exploits and his inspiring official life. At the Danzan Shrine itself, portraits of Kamatari together with his sons were the iconic images hung during the services held in his name. Kamatari is portrayed seated in a posture derived, although here in a Shinto context, from that of Buddhist deities, with one leg drawn up and the other extended, but otherwise “…..in the setting of an enshrined Shinto deity, with the shrine’s curtains pulled back and three sacred mirrors overhead. Wearing formal black robes and carrying a baton that symbolizes his rank and authority, he sits in front of a screen painted with wisteria (fuji), an emblem of his family.” His sword is in view at his waist and in front of him, similarly placed on raised platforms but smaller in size to signify their dependence and status as mere mortals, are his sons. The bamboo, fantastic rock, and pine beyond the curtains decorated with Tang-style medallions, are all time-hallowed emblems of virtuous character.
Other examples of extant Tōnomine Mandala, required for dedication to the deity and ceremonial use, differ from one another only in slight detail, suggesting that all were based on the same iconographic tradition and image, learned through existing images as well perhaps as through drawings handed down in the shrine itself. The painting here is most comparable to those dated to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), for example here in figures 1 and 2, as well as one in the Freer Sackler in Washington DC.
Fig. 1. Anonymous: “Tōnomine Mandala,” after Nara National Museum: Zōhin Zuroku Mokuroku, Kaiga-hen, Nara, 1988, pl. 50. P. 94.
Fig. 2. Anonymous: “Tōnomine Mandala,” after Sekai Dai Hyakka Jitten, Tōkyō, 1998, vol. 20, p. 298.