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    Horses by Sunraku, Kano (1559-1635)

    This pair of ema [votive paintings] were produced by Kano Sunraku, one of the most gifted artists of the late Momoyama and early Edo periods. Admired for their strength and speed and venerated for their innate, resolute spirit, horses have played a conspicious role in Japanese religious practices, ceremonial rites, and warfare since ancient times. Early accounts describe how horses were used in Shinto shrines, where their participation in solemn rituals was thought to be efficacious in precipitating rainfall or, conversely, in discouraging excessive rain and restoring good weather. To carry out these objectives, shrines were equipped with a pair of good animals, one of a dark hue, to cause rain to fall, and a second, with a light coat, to bring back the sun. Horses, in addition to their function in rites intended to affect the weather, had a more basic role as messengers and intermediaries between the temporal world and the Shinto gods. - abridged from catalogue entries by Money Hickman.