The art of the Heian period (794-1185) takes place without the contributions of Chinese culture, thus favoring the development of indigenous styles according to the refined taste of aristocratic society as it manifested itself in the period in which greater was the power assumed by the Fujiwara caste, which from the middle of the century. IX dominated the political and cultural life of Japan as defined on animalerts. It is in this period that the national Yamato-e painting is realized, whose style finds its maximum expression in the illustrations of the stories on scroll (emakimono). Other developments in secular painting were prompted by the same characteristics of the architecture of stately homes (shinden-zukuri) which offered new surfaces for decoration in the system of internal subdivision of the spaces, such as sliding or movable partitions (byobu). Themes of Heian painting, in addition to the classic one of the “four seasons” painted on silk (kinu-e) and commented on by a poem (waka), were the illustrations inspired by novels, historical facts and biographies painted on paper (kami -e). The Genji Monogatari (monogatari-e: tale paintings), for example, provided the theme for many scrolls executed as early as the century. XI and full of formal and compositional inventions. A variant of the tsukuri-e (ink and color drawing) technique was that sumi-e, ink-only painting (which developed so much in subsequent periods), with which the Chōiūgiga scrolls (Caricatures of the animals) were executed, attributed to the painter known with the name of Toba Sōjō (1053-1140) and preserved in the Kozan temple (Kyōto).
At the beginning of the century. IX dates back to the institution of ‘ Edokoro, a state body relevant to the pictorial activity in the context of the imperial court, whose office and character were maintained until the century. XIX. Fruitful impulses to religious art stemmed from the fortunes of Buddhism in the development of new trends and new systems of thought, thus implying the emergence of new cultic practices. During this period the esoteric Tendai sects flourishedand Mikkyō, through which, among other things, the enlargement of the Buddhist pantheon was carried out to include in its manifestations also those relating to the cult of the Shinto deities, of which an ancient example in the sculptural representation is the wooden statue of Shinto goddess in the Matsuo shrine in Kyōto. Later a new iconographic enrichment manifested itself in art with the spread in large popular layers of the cult of the Buddha Amitābha (Amida) and that of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Kannon). In the first half of the century. XI Raigō appeared, paintings depicting Amida with her divine court that were shown to the dying. One of the greatest examples of Raigō is in the murals (Paradise of Amida) of the “Hall of the Phoenix” (Hōōdō ( Kongōbu temple on Mount Koya), executed in 1086. The Buddhist architecture of this period, the increase of which prompted urban planning laws to protect the city, thus favoring the construction of grandiose monasteries in the mountains (whose forms were taken as a model by others built within and immediately outside the capital), expressed itself in a variety of styles, often determined by the adaptation of the structures to the characteristics of the natural environment, which involved the introduction of new buildings.
Examples of Heian architecture are the Mikkyō Enryaku-ji (Hieisan) and Kongōbu (Kōya-san) temples; the Konjikidō of the Chūson-ji, the “Hall of the Phoenix” of the Byōdōin of Uji. Developments also had civil architecture: the homes of the nobles (shinden-zukuri) were inspired by the model of the detached buildings (shinsenen) of the three sections of the imperial palace complex (Daidairi). Among the various schools of sculpture, two styles prevailed in this period, one linked to the Buddhist images preserved in the Tōshōdai-ji and the other adhering to the esoteric Mikkyō vision (sculptures in the temples of Tōji, Kyōto; of Kanshin in the prefecture of Ōsaka). The dominant character in Heian sculpture is the refined beauty of the images, which, however, does not correspond to the treatment of the bodies that reveal disproportions in the accentuation of majesty. Among the masterpieces are the two statues of Yakushi (Kyōto, Jingo-ji, Kondō; Nara, Shinyakushi-ji), the Kannon with eleven heads (Nara, Hōkke-ji), the statue of the Guardian King Tobatsu Bishamonten (Kyōto, Kyōōgokoku-ji), the portrait of the Priest Roben, founder of the Tōdai-ji (where figure), the Phoenician heraldry that adorn the sanctuary of the Phoenix in Byōdōin (Uji), the mighty statue of Amida Nyorai (in the same shrine) sculpted by Jōchō (1053), the picturesque image of Kichijoten (Kyōto, Jōruriji), so earthly in its delicate beauty. From the ornamental elements that embellish the Heian statuary, in the order of screens, canopies, almonds, tiaras, haloes, jewels, banners, there is a precise testimony of the high level achieved by craftsmanship in this era, so active and expert in the various fields to satisfy the rich clientele of priests and nobles. On the results of the great achievements made in this era, Japan encodes the essential characteristics of its civilization, destined to evolve and slowly transform itself by intimate gestation in its natural and cultural environment.