Byôbu, or "folding screens," presented unique
challenges to Japanese painters. The sheer size of these works
required the artists to conceive their compositions on a grand
scale. Since byôbu were usually arranged in pairs,
artists often linked the composition across the space separating
the two screens. They also had to take into account the folds
in the screen. With careful planning, they were able to exploit
the sense of three-dimensional space by strategically positioning
motifs around the folds. The scale of byôbu painting
sometimes necessitated the use of large brushes, particularly
for landscape motifs, such as rocks and trees.
Folding screens had a practical as well
as decorative function. Since they were sometimes used to subdivide
rooms into smaller spaces, the subjects they depicted could be
used to set the appropriate mood for the rooms in which they
were displayed. A government official entertaining important
guests, for example, would ensure that the byôbu
he chose to display on that occasion would enhance his status
and the seriousness of the meeting. In general, the size of folding
screens meant that wealthy patrons were most able to commission
such works. By the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868), artists
of all schools regularly produced byôbu paintings.
The range of subject matter byôbu painters explored
was as extensive as the range of styles they employed.