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The history of Japan's relations with China, Korea and other Asian countries reaches back to ancient times, but the importation of guns from Portugal through Tanegashima in 1543 and the arrival of the Spanish Jesuit missionary, Francisco Xavier (1506-52) in 1549 were the initial contacts with the West that led to the rapid development of trade with the Namban (Southern Barbarian).
Folding screens called the Namban-byobu were produced in great number by artists of the Kano School from the end of the sixteenth through the seventeenth century. These screens were Japanese in style and technique. On the other hand, Church taught Western art techniques for the production of icons and other works of religious art which were necessary for the propagation of Christianity. But the Western-style of expression seen in the Edo period, the adoption of a realistic style of expression employing methods of perspective and shading, is in a different category from Namban-byobu and those religious works.
Contact with the Dutch happened by chance in 1600, the year of the Battle of Sekigahara, the outcome of which facilitated Ieyasu Tokugawa's establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled until 1867. The Leifde, one of a party of ships dispatched for exploration by the Dutch East India Company of Rotterdam, drifted ashore at Bungo-usuki and two members of the crew, Englishman William Adams (1564-1620) and Dutchman Jan Joosten (?-1623) were employed by Ieyasu to assist in the establishment of the Dutch factory at Hirado, Nagasaki.
The Tokugawa shogunate, under the rule of the third shogun Iemitsu (ruled 1623-51), controlled trade and prohibited the propagation of Christianity. The government enacted a strict policy of isolation from the rest of the world, maintaining trade with China, Manchuria, Korea, the Ryukyu islands and only one Western nation, Holland. The Dutch factory was moved from Hirado to Dejima in Nagasaki. The director of the Dutch East India Company's (Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, VOC) factory in Japan, Capitaõ (a name of Portuguese origin) was obliged to have an audience with the shogun in Edo and to submit a report on news of the world known as Oranda fusetsugaki (nieuws or novos). This was the only ray of light to pierce the black box which was the isolated nation of Japan.
Despite Japan's isolation from the rest of the world, in the eighteenth century Hakuseki Arai (1657-1725), a counselor to the seventh and eighth shoguns, wrote a book, Seiyo kibun ("Western accounts"). It based on interviews with G. B. Sidotti, an Italian missionary who violated the prohibition and smuggled into Japan. The eighth shogun Yoshimune (ruled 1716-45) relaxed the prohibition on literature in 1720, permitting the import and reading of Western books except religious matter. Yoshimune was the most cultured ruler among the 15 consecutive Tokugawa shoguns. Yoshimune took two natural history picture books that Dutch factory director Hendrick Indijck had presented to the fourth shogun Ietsuna in 1663 from a half century of storage. Yoshimune proceeded to earnestly quiz the director of the Dutch factory, Joan Aouwer, about the book's content. This incident is said to have been the start of Yoshimune's interest in Western civilization. The books were Jans Jonston's Nauwkeurige Beschryving van de Natur der Viervoetige Dieren (Amsterdam, 1660) and Rembertus Dodonaeus' Cruydt-Boeck (Antwerp, 1644). Yoshimune also possessed an oil painting of flowers and birds by Wilien van Roijen, an Amsterdam-born painter who was active in the early half of the eighteenth century. The painting was commissioned in Holland for the shogun in 1722, arrived in Nagasaki in 1726, and then was presented to Yoshimune. The painting's whereabouts became unknown at the end of the Edo era.
The impact of Western books imported from Holland, especially books with numerous illustrations such as Jonston's and Dodonaeus' natural history books, and German copperplate maker, Johann Elias Ridinger's (1698-1767) etchings of horses from around the world, and van Roijen's oil painting had a great influence on the development of Japan's acquirement of Western art techniques, as will be explained later in this paper.
Dicten's translation, published in 1734, journeyed on a Dutch merchant ship and made it's way via Nagasaki to Edo's Genpaku Sugita, Ryotaku Maeno (1723-1803), and Jun'an Nakagawa (1739-86) in early spring of 1771. The surprise Genpaku experienced when he brought the book to the dissection of an executed corpse on March 5 of that year was described in Rangaku kotohajime. "Ryotaku and I brought the Dutch book with us and compared it to the body. The book in no way differed from what we saw before us. If we could translate parts of this Tahel Anatomia we could gain a clear understanding of anatomy entirely and advance medicine beyond its present level."
There were difficulties to overcome in translating, as related in this passage, "When I first faced this Tahel Anatomia, it was like sailing out to open sea in a rudderless ship. It was boundless and I did not know in which direction to turn. I was as stumped as I could be." But after five years of effort, Kaitai shinsho was published in four volumes of text and one volume of illustrations in 1774.
The story of Tahel Anatomia, a vivid and dramatic depiction of the beginnings of Dutch studies, has been passed from generation to generation since that time. It is no exaggeration to say that the image of our Japanese predecessor who succeeded in interpretation of the Western text by diligent effort was the spiritual foundation for the receipt of Western knowledge that was required for the modernization of Japan.
At the same time, the encounter with this medical text occurring in the closed country of Japan was more than just the beginning of the receipt of modern Western science. It was undoubtedly the first encounter with the world at large (2)).
Kaitai shinsho's volume of illustrations was wood block prints and the drafts of prints were produced by using menso-fude, a fine brush used for painting details, to trace the copperplate etchings of the original text. The illustration-work was made by 25-year old Naotake Odano (1749-80), from Akita clan in Kakunodate.
Naotake had been introduced to Western art techniques in Kakunodate by Gennai Hiraga (1728-79), a zoologist, novelist, playwright, metallurgist and painter of the portrait, Seiyo fujin-zu (Young European Woman). Gennai went to Nagasaki to learn Dutch studies and was familiar with the Western-style art through a copy of Dodonaeus' Crudyt-Boeck which he owned. He was invited to Kakunodate to help in the development of copper mines in the Akita clan's territory by Shozan Satake (1748-86), the daimyo (feudal lord) of the Akita clan that employed Naotake. Naotake went to Edo by order of the daimyo(Shozan) to learn Western-style painting and worked for the illustrations of Kaitai shinsho which was being translated by Gennai Hiraga's close friend Genpaku Sugita and company.
Shozan was also taken with Western-style painting and painted Matsu ni karadori-zu(Pine Tree with a Foreign Bird). He left Japan's first writings on the theory of Western-style painting, Gaho koryo ("The Art of Painting") and Gazu rikai ("Understanding paintings and figures"). Akita ranga (Western-style painting born in Akita clan) became a unique style in the history of Japanese art.
Takeshi Yoro, a scholar of anatomy, commented that Naotake Odano's copying of the anatomical charts was "creative imitation" (3)). There is no disputing that it was Naotake's anatomical illustrations which gave the Kaitai shinsho true lasting value as a translation of Tahel Anatomia. Erwin Panofsky used the example of Leonardo Da Vinci as a scholar of anatomy and an anatomical illustrator, to claim that the natural sciences were born from the studios of the Renaissance artists (4)). It can be also said that in Japan the new Western-style realistic expression of painting was born from the translation of the Dutch medical text, Tahel Anatomia in eighteenth century Edo.
The generation of artists after Naotake aspired to paint in the Western-style and often made copies of original paintings. Tairo Ishikawa (1765-1817), a painter connected to Genpaku, copied the van Roijen's painting of flowers and birds that was presented to Shogun Yoshimune and it was praised as having "a complexion true to the original" by Gentaku Ootsuki (1757-1827), a doctor of Western medicine. Tairo also painted Genpaku Sugita-zu (Portrait of Genpaku Sugita) in celebration of Genpaku's 80th year. The painting used a shading technique to evoke the dimension and depth of the room's interior. It can be recognized that the movement of the cultivation of Western-style painting was carried on among scholars of Dutch learning in Edo.
In 1779, five years after the original publication of Kaitai shinsho, 33-year old Kokan decided to learn the art of Western-style painting. He studied Dutch language from Gentaku Ootsuki, a pupil of Ryotaku Maeno, a doctor of Western medicine. In 1783, Kokan completed Japan's first copperplate etching, Mimeguri-zu (View of Mimeguri), and announced to the public "In Japan I have produced this method."
It is presumed that knowledge of copperplate etching was based on a Dutch translation of French pastor, M. Noel Chomel's Dictionaire conomique which was owned by Gentaku Ootsuki. At that time Kokan's copperplate etchings were made as megane-e (perspective picture for peep-show) which were popular at the time, but soon after that he began the large oil paintings of foreign landscapes, and later, Japanese landscapes such as Soshu kamakura shichigahama-zu (Shinchi-ga-hama in Kamakura, 1796) and Shunshu sattayama fuji enbo-zu (Mt. Fuji from Satta Pass, early 19th century).
The paintings of scenes from foreign countries were works inspired by the Emblem Book, Johannes and Caspaares Luiken's Occupations (Spiegel van HET MENSYLEK BEDRYF, Vertoond, in 100 Verbeeidigen van Ambachten, Konsten, Hanteeringen en Bedryven: met Versen, published in Amsterdam in 1694). These works are Ikokufukei jinbutsu-zu (Scenes from a Foreign Country), Seiyo taruzukuri-zu (Cask-Making in the West) and Ikoku kojo-zu (Factory in a Foreign Country).
It is thought that Kokan produced these paintings of scenes of foreign countries between 1785 and 1800. During the same period he wrote Oranda tsuhaku ("Dutch Navigation") which was published in 1805. Kokan compiled all his foreign knowledge and presented it to the public in this work.
"Zeuxis' Grapes", which is now missing, was painted by Kokan in 1789. The painting is based on a story that appears in Plinius's Historia Naturalis in which the ancient Roman painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasios test their skills in making realistic paintings. This work, which is thought to be based on an illustration contained in Johann Ludwig Gottfried's Histoorisch chronyck (Amsterdam, 1660), is an homage to Zeuxis who drew grapes which looked real enough to deceive birds and is said to have been "in praise of realism (5))".
Another painting of great interest by Kokan is Gashitsu-zu (Atelier of a Painter, 1794) which can be seen as a reflection of Kokan as a scholar of natural laws who produced Japan's first copperplate world map. The painting depicts a room of Western-style architecture containing an easel, a copperplate press, a globe, a compass, glasses and maps. Although it may be somewhat of a stretch to say this painting is reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia, the painting expresses a spiritual self-portrait of Kokan as a painter, geographer and scientist who absorbed knowledge from the West.
Recently uncovered historical documents prove that Kokan and Naotake had direct contact. The conventional explanation has been that Akita ranga was a style that developed by chance in one region of Japan, had no successors after Naotake's early death at the age of 33 and subsequently disappeared. But another theory contends that the unique composition style with distinctive enlarged foreground was carried on by Kokan and later influenced other artists. That is to say, the enlarged foreground composition of the Akita ranga was sustained by Kokan Shiba or perhaps Denzen Aodo, particularly in his work Tameike-zu (Pond), then was picked up by Edo Western-style painters and had an influence on the sharply contrasted foregrounds and backgrounds of ukiyo-e landscape wood block prints by Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), Hiroshige Ando (1797-1858) and so on. Fujio Naruse, the premier scholar of Kokan, says, "In Hokusai and Hiroshige's landscape prints with enlarged foregrounds, the backgrounds are almost always painted, which style is rarely seen in traditional Japanese pictures. In Japanese painting the subject is frequently not shown in its entirety, but the Akita ranga paintings are practically the only earlier works that closely resemble the partial enlargement in the extreme foreground, that is found in the landscape prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige (7))."
If we can recognize the connection of composition style between the Akita ranga and ukiyo-e landscape prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige, it could be also said that the influence of Akita ranga spread and reached to Japonism, the influence of Japanese paintings of the late Edo era upon European paintings of the nineteenth century.
The following works are examples of the correlation between paintings of the East and West as seen in Japonism
Hiroshige Ando. Kyobashi Takegashi (Riverside Bamboo Market at Kyobashi) from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. 1856-1858. e.g. Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Claude Monet. Le Bassin aux nymphéas (Water-Lily Pond). 1899. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.
Hiroshige Ando. Kameido Tenjin Keidai (Kameido Tenjin Shrine Grounds) from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. 1856-1858. e.g. Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Vincent van Gogh. Japonaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree (After Hiroshige). 1887. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
Hiroshige Ando. Kameido Umeyashiki (The Plum Tree Teahouse at Kameido) from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. 1856-1858. e.g. Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Vincent van Gogh. Sower with Setting Sun. 1888. Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam.
Hiroshige Ando. Semba from Kisokaido Rokujukyutugi (Sixty-nine Stations on the Kisokaido). c.1839. e.g. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
According to Mr. Naruse's theory, Akita ranga is the root of the relationship of mutual influence. Furthermore, it may be possible to see the 'Crossroads of Information and Culture', that is, the continuous flow sprang from the illustrations in the Tahel Anatomia which came from Holland.
Authors used previously written and published Japanese researches as references and followed their framework to prepare this paper concerning one aspect of the relationship between Japan and Holland as seen in the history of Japanese painting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We wish to present singular type of "crossroads" at Amsterdam Conference on the interesting theme of "On Crossroads of Information and Culture." While preparing this paper, we compiled a bibliography of resources and reference works and we will hand out it together with a list of works introduced at the presentation of this paper at the Conference.