TAM Docents: Questions from a tour
Rose gave a tour last week and came back with some very good questions
that I asked Zoe to lend a hand with them and she has graciously replied
below. The information was just too good to keep to ourselves.
Jana Wennstrom | TACOMA ART MUSEUM
Manager of Public and Volunteer Programs
& Interim Director of Education
T: 253.272.4258 x3030
Here are the questions:
1. Is there a reason that the prints that we see in the Meiji period
that are in a triptych form
(for example the battle depiction of the Russo-Japanese war) are
printed on three individual pieces of paper. Since paper can be made to
any size why not create a the image on a single paper? They thought
that perhaps the block itself was the determining factor due to warping
or difficulty printing etc. I was not sure and didn't see it in my
notes. Do you know?
THE SIZE OF THE BLOCK WAS DEFINITELY A CONSIDERATION. BUT I THINK THAT
AS A GENERAL RULE IT CAN BE SAID THAT THE PRINTERS LIKED TO FOLLOW
STANDARDIZED SIZES. THE PAPER WAS HANDMADE AND IT WAS USUALLY MADE TO A
STANDARD SIZE. EACH OF THE THREE SHEETS IN THAT TRIPTYCH REFERENCED
ABOVE ARE CALLED "OBAN" AND ARE ROUGHLY 15X10 INCHES. OTHER FAVORITE
FORMATS WERE ONE-HALF AND ALSO ONE-THIRD OF THAT OBAN SIZE. THIS KIND OF
STANDARDIZATION APPEARS IN OTHER ASPECTS OF JAPANESE LIFE--FOR EXAMPLE
THE WIDTH OF THE FABRIC PANEL IN KIMONO IS THE SAME WHETHER IT IS THE
SLEEVE, THE FRONT RIGHT PANEL, THE FRONT LEFT PANEL, OR THE BACK (WHICH
IS TWO PANELS SEWN TOGETHER).
2. They were curious about Shunga (the erotic prints). They were
wondering if we had any in our collection and what the curatorial
prospective would be on showing them. I told them that our collection
was large and that I didn't know if we had any but that i would ask.
TO MY KNOWLEDGE WE DO NOT HAVE ANY TRUE, EXPLICIT SHUNGA IN THE
COLLECTION. THERE WAS ONE PRINT IN THE FIRST ROTATION THAT SHOWED SOME
AMOROUSNESS BUT IT WAS SOMEWHAT VEILED. IT IS INTERESTING BECAUSE DURING
THE EDO PERIOD SHUNGA WERE PROHIBITED SO ARTISTS WERE CAREFUL AND DEFT
AT PRODUCING IMAGES THAT MIGHT BE TITILATING BUT REMAINED WITHIN THE
RESTRICTIONS. I HAVE NOT HAD TO FACE THE QUESTION OF EXHIBITING THEM BUT
IT IS ONE THAT WE WOULD HAVE TO WEIGH CAREFULLY--ESPECIALLY SOME OF THE
MORE EXPLICIT WORKS (IF WE HAD THEM IN THE COLLECTION).
3. One person asked if the artists drew from real life models and
landscapes. I showed him Hokasui's magna and explained that people were
drawing from life but also depended on previous images and books like
the magna. I know that in renaissance in both printing and painting
there were modeling books that artists and crafts people used to create
images. I assumed it would be similar but I didn't know for sure which i
let him know. I hope i wasn't being presumptuous but if i was wrong i
would like to send the correct answer.
THIS IS A COMPLETELY FASCINATING QUESTION AND I DON'T KNOW WHY I HAVEN'T
CONSIDERED IT MYSELF BEFORE! I DO NOT KNOW FOR CERTAIN TO BE HONEST, BUT
MY SENSE IS THAT THE ARTISTS DID NOT WORK FROM MODELS. THE HOKUSAI MANGA
IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF A STUDY BOOK FOR ARTISTS (AND STUDENTS) TO
REFERENCE. REGARDING LANDSCAPE, MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT YES, ARTISTS
DID WORK AND SKETCH FROM OUT OF DOORS AND THAT THE DEPICTION OF A
RECOGNIZABLE LOCALE WAS A PARTICULAR TRAIT OF MID-19TH CENTURY JAPANESE
PRINT LANDSCAPES (PARTICULARLY AS TRAVEL WAS MADE MORE AVAILABLE).
4. In the print of the Meiji emperor's betrothal on a mantle/ alter are
two small older characters with brooms. Who are they?
WHAT KEEN ART LOOKERS THEY ARE! I LOVE HOW RICH IN REFERENCES THAT
TRIPTYCH IS! THE PAIR IS A MYTHOLOGICAL COUPLE KNOWN AS "JO AND UBA" WHO
ARE OFTEN DEPICTED AS AN OLDER COUPLE WITH BROOMS AND REPRESENT MARITAL
HARMONY AND LONGEVITY. I HAVE A GREAT BOOK AT WORK THAT DESCRIBES THEM
WELL--I'LL SEND A COPY TOMORROW OF THOSE PAGES.