July 26, 2012

Eight Sights in the Environs of Edo

This work is a series of nishiki-e (Japanese multicolored woodblock prints) that depict eight scenic spots around Edo (present-day Tokyo). The series, dating from about 1838, is one of the greatest artistic masterpieces from among the many woodblock prints of Utawaga Hiroshige I (1797–1858). The work consists of: Azuma no mori yau (Night rain at Azuma no mori); Haneda rakugan (Wild geese alighting at Haneda); Gyōtoku kihan (Returning sailboats near Gyōtoku); Sibaura seiran (Mountain vapor at Shibaura); Ikegami banshō (Evening bell at Ikegami); Koganei-bashi sekisho (Evening glow at Koganei-bashi bridge); Tamagawa shūgetsu (Autumn moon over the Tamagawa River); and Asukayama bosetsu (Evening snow at Asukayama). The son of a jōbikeshi dōshin (a fireman officer under the shogunate), Hiroshige was born in Edo, and his original name was Ando Jūemon. He became an artist in the ukiyo-e style, training under Utagawa Toyohiro (1773–1828). Hiroshige’s scenic landscapes are among the best-loved of his many works.

Kinko and Echizen

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. Black-and-white compositions like this one are known as sumizuri-e because they were rubbed or printed in ink only. This print, created around 1700 by Ōmori Yoshikiyo, is part of an altered edition of an ehon (illustrated book) and depicts a scene in Kyoto’s Shimabara pleasure district. One courtesan, identified as Echizen, is seen writing poetry while the second, called Kinko, grooms the hair of a male patron as he watches in a mirror. These figures are identical in pose to figures from an earlier work, Courtesans in Opposing Mirrors, signed by Okumura Masanobu (circa 1686–1764). Masanobu’s work was based on an image created by Torii Kiyonobu I (circa 1664–1729), dated 1700.

July 27, 2012

100 Poems by 100 Poets

This illustrated book of Ogura hyakunin isshu (One hundred poets, one hundred poems) is a collection of one hundred 31-syllable classical Japanese poems (waka), each by a different poet. The collection is organized chronologically from Emperor Tenji (626-671) to Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242). Each of the poets is depicted by a woodblock print created by Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-circa 1694). Morobonu is often considered the first Ukiyo-e artist.

The Origin of Tenjin

This is a large illustrated manuscript book of the type called nara-ehon. It depicts the life of Sugawara Michizane (845-903), a leading court scholar, political figure, and literary man of the Heian period (794-1185). Nara-ehon are illustrated manuscripts or hand-printed books and scrolls that were produced from the Muromachi period (1336-1573) through the middle of the Edo period (1600-1867).

Soga's Robes

Nara-ehon are illustrated manuscripts or hand-printed books and scrolls produced in Japan from the Muromachi period (1336-1573) through the middle of the Edo period (1600-1867). This rectangular nara-ehon depicts the story of the Soga brothers, Soga Jurō Sukenari (1172-93) and Soga Gorō Tokimune (1174-93), and their quest for revenge for their father's death. The Soga Monogatari (Tale of the Soga brothers) tells how, after 18 years of hardships, the brothers fulfill their quest, but also how Sukenari is killed and Tokimune captured and executed by Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99), the founder of the Kamakura shogunate (1192-1333).

Morning Glory Flowers

This pictorial book from 1854 is known as one of the best books on morning glories published in Japan. It reflects the morning glory mania that began in 1847 and that was widespread among the people of Edo (present-day Tokyo) at that time. The book features colored prints of 36 morning glory flowers and leaves with strange shapes, by Hattori Sessai (1807-?), a Japanese painter known for his naturalist works. The descriptions were written by Bankaen Shujin, also known as Yokoyama Masana (1833-1908), who was a retainer of a Tokugawa shogun.