November 23, 2011

Girl's Day

The Japanese art of Ukiyo-e (“Pictures of the floating [or sorrowful] world”) developed in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) during the Tokugawa or Edo Period (1600-1868), a relatively peaceful era during which the Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan and made Edo the seat of power. The Ukiyo-e tradition of woodblock printing and painting continued into the 20th century. This print is one sheet of an illustrated book from between 1716 and 1736. It shows three richly dressed women or girls eating and drinking, probably celebrating Hina Matsuri (Girl's day) with a doll ceremony, showing dolls sitting at a table in the background.

Thomas Jefferson, Head-and-Shoulders Portrait, Facing Right

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States of America and one of the founding fathers of the republic. With the nation still in the process of solidifying its identity, political figures became a popular subject for contemporary artists, much as kings, aristocracy, and religious figures had been in the past. Portrait painters also hoped to earn money by painting politically important individuals, either from the subject himself or from enthusiasts in his entourage. The French artist Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) did two engravings of Jefferson (although research suggests that he retooled the old portrait for the second engraving). For the accurate depiction of his sitters’ facial proportions, Saint-Mémin relied upon the “physiognotrace,” an invention that he brought with him from his native France. The physiognotrace was a mechanism designed to trace a subject’s profile with great exactitude. This method became quite popular among American engravers for a time, including with Saint-Mémin’s artistic rivals, the Peales.

United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.: East Front Elevation, Rendering

Construction of the Capitol, the building that houses the U.S. Congress, began in 1793 and was largely completed by 1865, when the Capitol’s second dome was finished. The principal architects were William Thornton (1759-1828), B. Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), and Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-87). This elevation by Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-92), rendered in ink, watercolor, and wash, shows the east front of the Capitol as it appeared in 1834. After studying at the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York, Davis began his career as an architectural illustrator. This rendering was intended for a publication, that he never completed, on the nation’s public buildings. In the late 1820s, Davis became an architect in his own right, completing his first design, for a Greek Revival house in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1829-31, and joining the new firm of Town & Davis, with Ithiel Town (1784-1844). Davis went on to design a variety of building types, including the state houses in North Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, large institutions, and country houses and estates. One of the master draftsmen of his time, he continued to produce superb illustrations throughout his career, including those for such influential publications as Rural Residences (1838), Cottage Residences (1842), and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850).

The Island and City of Metropolitan Goa of India

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611) was a Dutch traveler and explorer who spent six years (1583-89) in Goa, an important trading center on the west coast of India that Portugal annexed in 1510 and was to occupy for the next 450 years. Linschoten was employed as bookkeeper to the local archbishop. After returning to the Netherlands, he wrote two books containing valuable information about the people and geography of India. Translated into English and published in London in 1598, Linschoten’s works helped to stimulate Dutch and English interest in trade with India and the East Indies.

Abosko-B'erneborg Province

This card is one of a souvenir set of 82 illustrated cards–one for each province of the Russian Empire as it existed in 1856. Each card presents an overview of a particular province’s culture, history, economy, and geography. The front of the card depicts such distinguishing features as rivers, mountains, major cities, and chief industries. The back of each card contains a map of the province, the provincial seal, information about the population, and the local costume of the inhabitants.

Arkhangelsk Province

This card is one of a souvenir set of 82 illustrated cards–one for each province of the Russian Empire as it existed in 1856. Each card presents an overview of a particular province’s culture, history, economy, and geography. The front of the card depicts such distinguishing features as rivers, mountains, major cities, and chief industries. The back of each card contains a map of the province, the provincial seal, information about the population, and the local costume of the inhabitants.