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Formal Audience Hall (Shoin)

In this Room

A high-ranking Zen priest would have used this Japanese audience hall to receive important guests-such as members of the aristocracy or high-ranking warriors. As the most formal room for this purpose within Konchi-in temple, in Kyoto, carpenters chose the best wood—completely free from knots and imperfections. They constructed a special coffered ceiling—a tour-de-force of their woodworking skill. They added bronze fittings, gilded with gold, that were worked with minute and beautiful designs. As was traditional in Japanese audience halls, they created an alcove, or tokonoma, where the priest could hang prized paintings from the temple's collection. Next to the tokonoma, they built staggered shelves, where one or two of the temple's cherished ceramics could be exhibited. To make the room even more resplendent, skilled craftsmen applied gold leaf to the walls and doors, and painters added stylized views of nature.

The Japanese audience hall at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, based on Konchi-in temple, shows how painted doors contributed to the luxurious ambiance of such rooms. Because the Japanese typically did not use furniture—sitting instead directly on the floor, which was lined with woven tatami mats—Japanese rooms have a spare, spacious feeling—even if they are very small. And without tables and chairs filling the space, a visitor's attention would naturally linger on the prized paintings (such as these below) and ceramics placed on display in the tokonoma alcove and on the staggered shelves.

Kanon with Landscape and Tiger, from a set of three Kanon with Landscape and Tiger, from a set of three Kanon with Landscape and Tiger, from a set of three

Kanon with Landscape and Tiger, set of three