Art historical discussions of images as animated or imbued with life often take the form of a rhetorical exercise. However, early modernity in East Asia offers examples of deliberate confounding of pictorial and ‘real’ space, along with claims to the ontological presence of images. This talk will focus on stories of painted portraits coming to life, as well as on actual portraits, produced within the urban vernacular culture of late seventeenth-century Japan. Their analysis points toward a non-visual-centred history of art, based instead on the bodily encounter with the volumetric presence of images. The discussion also suggests a non-human-centred ontological model revolving around scenarios of interaction with images.