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A study of 18th to 19th-century Nanpin and Japanese Nanpin School paintings through art historical and scientific material analysis of the British Museum collection

The main research question of the project is how 18th to 19th century Japanese Nanpin School paintings were created in terms of materials, media and painting techniques, such as composition, brush work and colour combinations, when compared to works by the Chinese artist, Shen Nanpin (沈南蘋) and how these elements were transmitted to other Japanese painters.

By the mid-Edo period, when the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (徳川吉宗) invited Nanpin to Japan, painters of the official Kano (狩野) and Tosa (土佐) Schools, who held powerful social positions, had become complacent and lost their creativity and energy. Nanpin arrived at Nagasaki in 1731 and taught his painting methods to his Japanese pupil Yuhi (熊斐). Nanpin’s elaborate and splendid Chinese Northern Palace School painting style was well received by daimyo (大名) (Japanese feudal lords).

Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art History and Conservation (ISAAC) study of 18th and 19th century Japanese Nanpin paintings

Painting by Shen Nanpin (沈南蘋) (c. 1682-1760) Flower and bird, ink and colour on silk, hanging scroll, British Museum collection.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Nanpin’s painting style is conservative and the subjects are flowers and birds, often including celebrative subjects, kissho (吉祥). It influenced Japanese artists, spreading rapidly across Japan especially Edo through Nanpin School artists. Treatises on the principles of painting production or appreciation, such as various gafu (画譜) which include illustrations, were widely circulated.

Addressing the challenge

The specific research questions are:


  1. How did 18th century Chinese Northern Song Palace School influence Nanpin and the Nanpin School?

  2. How did Nanpin influence the Japanese Nanpin School in terms of artist’s material?


To answer these art historical questions, primary sources will be used such as Shin Nanpingazu Hyappuku (沈南蘋画図百幅), Ransaigafu (蘭斎画譜) and Nanpin and Yuhi’s teaching methods written by Mori Ransai (森蘭斎) will be carried out. In addition, non-invasive scientific methods will be conducted on Nanpin, Nanpin School and selected 17th and 18th century Kano and Tosa School paintings at the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum to distinguish between the different Schools’ palettes, the use of pigments, painting schemes and types of sizing. Part of this study will also analyse pigment samples from the collection of the Lord Nabeshima (武雄鍋島家所蔵の皆春斎絵具).


The trading routes and where and how artists purchased pigments, silk and paper in China and Japan, as well as how artists selected painting materials focusing on painting expression will be investigated. These investigations will be guided by the results of non-invasive scientific analysis of Nanpin and Nanpin School’s artist’s materials using facilities provided by the ISAAC mobile lab and the British Museum.


Academic Supervisors:   

Dr Natasha Hodgson (History, Nottingham Trent University)

Professor Haida Liang (Nottingham Trent University)

Museum Supervisors:     

Dr Capucine Korenberg (Scientific Research, The British Museum) 

Dr Clare Pollard (The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford)

PhD student:                   

Makiko Tsunoda (History, Nottingham Trent University)


  • AHRC/ Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

  • The British Museum

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