January 23, 2012

The Actors Ichikawa Raizō in the Role of Umeōmaru and Nakajima Mihoemon in the Role of Shihei

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. The designer of this print is not known with certainty, but it is attributed to Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1819), a self-taught ukiyo-e artist and book illustrator who experimented with the emerging techniques of color printing. This print is a hosoban (narrow format) benizuri-e (two-color prints), an early form of color printing that often limited its palette to pink and green. Hosoban was the standard size for actor prints in the 18th century. The Kabuki actors in this print are frozen in a dramatic moment of the scene kuruma-biki (carriage-breaking), in which a heroic youth, Umeomaru, vigorously confronts Shihei, an enemy who had caused his father to be exiled from political success.

A Guide for the Good

This Muslim prayer book is a 1785 copy of an original 15th-century manuscript. The work includes a panorama of Mecca and Medina, the holy cities of Islam in Saudi Arabia. Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and lived for the first 50 years of his life, is the most sacred city in Islam. It is also where the Ka`bah is found, the holiest sanctuary in Islam and called the "house of God" (Bayt Allah). Muslims throughout the world pray facing in the direction of Mecca and the Ka`bah. Medina is the second most sacred city in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad sought refuge, died, and was entombed.

Narrative of an Expedition to Explore the River Zaire, Usually Called the Congo, in South Africa, in 1816

James Kingston Tuckey (1776-1816) was a British naval officer who, after service in the Caribbean, Asia, and Australia, was asked by the British government to command an expedition to explore the Congo River. He was to ascertain, in particular, whether the Congo was connected to the Niger River. Tuckey traveled 480 kilometers up the Congo, mapping the river and gathering ethnographic and geographic information. Before he could complete his mission, he died of fever (on October 4, 1816, near Moanda, in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). This work consists of his journal, which he kept until shortly before his death, supplemented by observations by other members of the expedition. An appendix offers a basic vocabulary of two African languages, Malemba and Embomma.

Will of Zephaniah Kingsley, 1843

Zephaniah Kingsley was a wealthy planter and slave owner in northeast Florida. His heirs included his wife, a freed slave named Anna M. J. Kingsley, and their children. Kingsley was both a defender of slavery and an activist for the legal rights of free blacks. Born in Bristol, England, in 1765, Kingsley moved to Charleston, South Carolina, then a British colony, in 1770. By the 1790s, Kingsley was active in maritime commerce, including the slave trade. In 1803, he became a citizen of Spanish Florida and began acquiring land in northeast Florida. In 1806, Kingsley purchased, in Havana, Cuba, a teenager from the Jolof region of Senegal in West Africa named Anta Majigeen Ndiaye; he subsequently freed her and made her his wife: Anna Kingsley. When the United States took control of Florida from Spain in 1821, it agreed to honor the rights of the territory’s free blacks. Over the next three decades, however, state and local laws and customs slowly eroded the rights of these U.S. citizens. By the 1840s and 1850s, many free blacks were forced into slavery. By the end of his life, Kingsley was embittered by the racial discrimination practiced in Florida’s antebellum society and concerned over the fate of his wife and children. Fearing for the safety of his family in Florida, Kingsley made preparations to send his wife and children to Haiti, and by 1838, Anna and her children were residents of Haiti. In this will, Kingsley sought to ensure the freedom and financial well-being of the children he had by various women (slave and free), as well as of his wife. He gave instructions that the slave families he owned not be separated without their consent, that his slaves be given the privilege of buying their freedom at half their respective values, and that they be given the opportunity to go to Haiti if they could not remain free in Florida.

Active Passage, Saturna Group, Looking West

The Northwest Boundary Survey of 1857-61 was a joint U.S.-British project to survey the border between the United States and Canada from the crest of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Carried out jointly by American and British experts, it involved four years of strenuous work in rugged and heavily forested terrain. James Madison Alden (1834-1922) was a Massachusetts artist who, in 1854, enlisted in the U.S. Navy and worked as a cartographer on a project to chart the California coast. In January 1858, Alden became the official artist of the Northwest Boundary Survey. Because of the Civil War and other complications, the American survey never published its final report, and much of its documentation was lost. Alden’s watercolors, which reflect his sense of color and skill in handling the watercolor medium, are mainly what survived from the American side of the project. This painting shows a view toward Saturna Island, part of the Gulf Islands chain in British Columbia, Canada.


This ketubah, a marriage contract in Hebrew between two individuals identified as Shelomò, son of Zare of Carcassona and Bella di Merwanha, is a rare testimony to the Jewish presence in Sardinia, and specifically in Alghero on the northwestern coast of the island. In the second half of the 14th century, Alghero became the center of the Jewish community in Logudoro, a region in central-northern Sardinia. Jews enjoyed special privileges in Sardinia until the Inquisition and their expulsion in 1492, which was decreed by the ruler of Sardinia, Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452–1516), also known as Ferdinand the Catholic. Forced to leave their homes and communities, they took with them all of the records and objects that could attest to their once flourishing presence. This fragmentary document in the library of the University of Sassari was preserved in the binding of a book.