With the decline of Ashikaga power in the 1560s, the feudal barons, or daimyos, began their struggle for control of Japan. The ensuing four decades of constant warfare are known as the Momoyama (Peach Hill) period. The name derives from the site, in a Kyoto suburb, on which Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598) built his Fushimi Castle. Unity was gradually restored through the efforts of three warlords. The first, Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), took control of Kyoto and deposed the last Ashikaga shogun through military might and political acuity. He was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who continued the campaign to reunite Japan. Peace was finally restored by one of Hideyoshi's generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616).
The decorative style that is the hallmark of Momoyama art had its inception in the early sixteenth century and lasted well into the seventeenth. On the one hand, the art of this period was characterized by a robust, opulent, and dynamic style, with gold lavishly applied to architecture, furnishings, paintings, and garments. The ostentatiously decorated fortresses built by the daimyo for protection and to flaunt their newly acquired power exemplified this grandeur. On the other hand, the military elite also supported a counter-aesthetic of rustic simplicity, most fully expressed in the form of the tea ceremony that favored weathered, unpretentious, and imperfect settings and utensils.
During this era, the attention of the Japanese was more than usually drawn beyond its shores. In addition to the continued trade with and travel to and from China and Korea, Toyotomi Hideyoshi instigated two devastating invasions of the Korean peninsula with the ultimate goal of invading China. The arrival of Portuguese and Dutch merchants and Catholic missionaries brought an awareness of different religions, new technologies, and previously unknown markets and goods to Japanese society. Over time, these foreign influences blended with native Japanese culture in myriad and long-lasting ways.
Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art