Roughly half of the Cultural Heritage Library (CHL), available online here, includes titles from the Smithsonian’s Art Libraries. While copyright restrictions prohibit much coverage of more contemporary titles, the CHL addresses a broad swath of art history’s major movements and themes, including wildly popular and renowned movements like Cubism and Impressionism. Sometimes we isolate historical events; we forget that preceding events and influences play major roles in what comes next. This seems to be especially easy when it comes to art history’s tendency to declare masterpieces and the genius of the artisté. This month we take a look at part of what made Van Gogh and Monet so relevant for their time and enduring into ours: ukiyo-e, the “floating world” of Japanese woodblock prints. Continue reading
For the 2002-2003 exhibition of Japanese prints in the Anne van Biema Collection titled Masterful Illusions, the Freer-Sackler Gallery produced a promotional bookmark using an image of a print by Yoshitoshi, "Hōryūkaku ni Ryōyū Ugoku" or "Two Heroes in Battle at Horyūkakū." Materials in the Freer-Sackler Library make it possible to research some of the background of the print, as well as other prints depicting the same story.
The scene is from the book Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (The Chronicles of the Eight Dog Heroes of the Satomi Clan of Nansō), a 106 volume work written between 1814 and 1842 by Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848). The title of the Hakkenden refers to eight heroes, each with the word "dog" (Inu) in his name, all of whom are the magical offspring of a dog and a princess. Each of the eight represents a traditional Confucian virtue in the story, which is set in the fifteenth century. Two of the heroes, Inuzuka Shino (on the roof peak), and Inukai Kempachi, are shown in the included images confronting each other on the Hōryū Tower of the Koga Castle. Kempachi has been ordered to capture Shino, who has been falsely accused of spying. In the fight that follows, they both fall from the tower into the Tone River below, survive, and discover they are brothers.
The Hakkenden is an example of a Japanese fiction genre known as yomihon, or a book for reading (as opposed to viewing pictures) that developed in the eighteenth century. Yomihon were frequently set in Japan or China's past, drawing from classical themes and history. Dramatic scenes from the Hakkenden were frequently used in kabuki plays, which were the subject of prints. The author of the Hakkenden, Bakin, himself purchased a copy of the triptych print by Kuniyoshi shown above at the right.
In addition to many books on Japanese prints, and the works of the artists Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi, the Freer-Sackler Library has in its collections the book Hakkenden no sekai or "World of the Hakkenden" which is is entirely devoted to prints, paintings and other artistic works depicting scenes and characters from the Hakkenden.
Clark, Timothy. Kuniyoshi : from the Arthur R. Miller collection. London : Royal Academy of Arts ; New York : Distributed in the U.S. by Harry N. Abrams, c2009, p. 63.
Early modern Japanese literature : an anthology, 1600-1900. New York : Columbia University Press, c2002, pp. 885-909.
Hakkenden no sekai. [Matsuyama-shi] : Ehime-ken Bijutsukan ; [Chiba-shi] : Chiba-shi Bijutsukan ; [Tokyo] : Bijutsukan Renraku Kyogikai, 2008.
Schaap, Robert. Heroes & ghosts : Japanese prints by Kuniyoshi, 1797-1861. Leiden : Hotei Publishing, c1998, p. 116.
Yonemura, Ann. Masterful illusions : Japanese prints in the Anne Van Biema collection. Seattle : University of Washington Press ; Washington, D.C. : Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2002, pp. 248-249.
Image from cover of: Nihonga no jōkei: Fujisan, Biwako kara: Shizuoka Kenritsu Bijutsukan, Shiga Kenritsu Kindai Bijutsukan kyōdō kikakuten (Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, 2000) call #: ND1055 .N48277 2000
Since 1995 the Freer/Sackler Library has been the North American depository library for the JAC Project (Japan Art Catalog Project). Through the project the library receives every year 300-500 exhibition and collection catalogs on Asian-related subjects published in Japan and processes them in order to make them available for art historians and the general public. The JAC titles include solo and group exhibition catalogs by various Japanese artists and catalogs of special exhibitions by Japanese museums as well as their collection catalogs. As of October 1, 2010, over 4500 catalogs are available through interlibrary loan.
Initially collaborated and established by The North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources and ACE Japan (the Japan Association for Cultural Exchange) the project is currently managed by the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT), which solicits catalogs from museums and galleries in Japan and distributes them to depository libraries in North America, Europe and Australia. The JAC-Western Art Catalog Collection is held at Columbia University's Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library.
To find the catalogs from the JAC Project, search the Libraries' web catalog and look for “Collection: Freer Sackler JAC Project,” or conduct author search, “JAC Project.”
For inquiries on the JAC Project, please contact Reiko Yoshimura, Head Librarian (email@example.com, or 202-633-0481).
Tea bowl named Mino-game ("Mossy tailed tortoise") attributed to Kōetsu in the Freer Gallery collection.
In the epic Japanese novel Musashi by Yoshikawa Eiji, first serialized in Asahi Shimbun in the 1930s, the title character (a famed historical samurai) attempts to get his sword polished by a master of that art and is told (as translated by Charles S. Terry):
"Since I try to abide by my master's teachings, I refuse to polish the swords of samurai who take pleasure in killing people."
"Well you have a point there. But tell me who is this master of yours?"
"That's written on the sign too. I studied in the House of Hon'ami, under Hon'ami Kōetsu himself." Kosuke squared his shoulders proudly as he uttered his master's name.
This scene, although from a fictional story, shows the respect with which the craftsman Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558-1637) is regarded in Japan, where his skill not only in the family trade of sword polishing but also calligraphy, pottery, and lacquerware are esteemed. Kōetsu was at the center of a creative renaissance in early seventeenth century Kyoto that also included tea master Furuta Oribe (1544?-1615) and potter Raku Dōnyū (1599-1656). The Japanese government has designated two objects by Kōetsu, a lacquer writing box and a tea bowl, as National Treasures which may not leave the country.
In the early 20th century, Masuda Takashi, founder of the Mitsui industrial empire, art collector, and Kōetsu enthusiast, gave the credit for bringing Kōetsu to the attention of the western world to Charles Lang Freer, the founder of the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art. The Freer collection includes several dozen objects by or attributed to Kōetsu; the Freer-Sackler Library has many related resources for continuing research.
The arts of Hon'ami Kōetsu. Felice Fischer; with essays and catalogue entries by Edward Cranston [et. al.]. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000.
Pitelka, Morgan. Handmade culture: Raku potters, patrons, and tea practitioners in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Well, not really . . . but close enough.
In 1948, the Japanese government designated the fifth day of the fifth month as an annual national holiday: "Day of the Child", Kodomo no hi (こどもの日). This day is set aside to celebrate children and wish for their happiness. The fifth of May was originally called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) and was only intended for boys; girls had their own day, Hina Matsuri (雛祭り), "Festival of Dolls", on the third of March. Both boys and girls, however, are celebrated on Kodomo no hi.
In honour of the day, families fly carp-shaped banners or windsocks, known as koinobori (鯉幟), one for each child. When the wind blows, the banners look like swimming fish. Families who live in apartments may use miniature versions that can be used indoors. The carp signifies strength and success, for they are a hardy and adaptable fish.
Traditionally, on Boy's Day, a tiered stand was set in an alcove, or tokonoma (床の間), in the main room of the house. On it were displayed figures of famous warriors, along with models of swords and armour, to remind boys of the brave exploits of the samurai of old. Girls have their own version of this on the third of March, when the stand is filled with dolls representing the imperial court, all clad in elaborate costumes; Kashiwa mochi, a soft rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf and sometimes filled with sweet red bean paste; and chimaki, a glutinous rice dish wrapped in a bamboo leaf.
The Libraries has several books on Japanese festivals in its collections, some of them in English, including: Japanese festivals, by Helen Bauer & Sherwin Carlquist (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965); Japanese festivals : annual rites and observances, by Tokutaro Sakurai (Tokyo, Japan: International Society for Educational Information Press, 1970); Dolls on display : Japan in miniature, being an illustrated commentary on the Girls' Festival and the Boys' Festival, by G. Caiger (Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, ); and Matsuri: world of Japanese festivals, by Gorazd Vilhar, Charlotte Anderson (Tokyo, Japan : Shufunotomo, c1994).
Images, from top:
Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection of Early Photography of Japan. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Partial purchase and gift of Henry and Nancy Rosin, 1999-2001.
DOE Asia: Japan: General: NM 90351 04670502, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
DOE Asia: Japan: General: NM 90351 04670301, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.