No.171 A Witness to History
A photographic introduction to items from the collection
Edo Keikan Zu - Representations of “Edo“ in the early modern times (historical paintings)
This painting is a bird’s eye view of color on silk, which depicts Edo from an eastern perspective. Judging from the basic painting technique, it was probably painted by a Japanese painter. It shows the landscape including Mt. Fuji and Edo Castle positioned centrally, Honjo/Fukagawa placed at the front and the area from Shinagawa to Asakusa across the Sumida River (Photo 1). This composition, depicting Edo as seen from the east, is considered a traditional depiction originating from “Edo Zu Byobu“ (owned by the National Museum of Japanese History) depicting landscape in the mid-17th century. In addition, it is remarkably similar to the series of bird’s eye views painted by Keisai Kuwagata (1764-1824) in the early years of the 19th century (Photo 2, etc.) (“Hiroshige and Bird’s eye views of Edo“ by Junichi Okubo in the “National Museum of Japanese History Research Report“ 109, 2004) and depicts the same areas and subjects. It has thus been assumed that both bird’s eye views may be related.
|Photo 1: Edo Keikan Zu, owned by the National Museum of Japanese History|
Conversely, however, it seems to have been significantly influenced by Western paintings, whereby it is painted from a more natural perspective, e.g. in terms of shading and lateral expansion of the painting area and the omission of the rising sun on the left of the picture area. What initially comes to mind are the western-style paintings in the last years of the Edo era. One example of such Western paintings, painted based on Keisai’s bird’s eye views by Japanese painters, is Denzen Aoudo’s small copper-plate engraving “Toto Meisho Zenzu” (Famous Places in the Eastern Capital), (owned by Sukagawa City Museum, etc.) (Photo 4). There is a theory, however, that this painting was painted at the request of Keisai. In it, the details of the original painting, such as famous places and the character information of place names, are reproduced with relatively high fidelity. (“Copperplates of Famous Sites in Edo by Aoudo Denzen Examined in the History of Painting“ by Nobuhisa Kaneko in “Kokka“ No. 1220, 1997).
|Photo 2: Edo Meisho no Zu, owned by the National Museum of Japanese History||
Photo 3: Edo Hito-me Zu, (14th year of the Tenpo Era to the 4th year of the Koka Era (1843-47), owned by the National Museum of Japanese HistorySo-called pirated edition of “Edo Meisho no Zu“
When viewing this painting, “Edo Keikan Zu“, in detail, the palace of Edo Castle which resembles a Chinese watch tower (Photo 6), the depiction of details such as temporary playhouses jutting high like pyramids, the integrally connected bridge piers and the timbers on the river banks (Photo 11) are all taken into consideration, while the nets used for drying are too unnatural to be regarded as part of paintings performed by those who actually saw the real Edo. The western-style painting, color on silk, “Nihonbashi Zu“ by Raishu Yasuda (owned by Kobe City Museum) depicts Nihonbashi, Edo Castle and Mt. Fuji, but the depiction of the bridge piers and the palace of Edo Castle differ from “Edo Keikan Zu“. In fact, although both are western-style paintings, a significant gap exists between Keisai’s bird’s eye view and “Edo Keikan Zu”.
|Photo 4: Part of Edo Castle (“Edo Keikan Zu“)|
In October 2011, I participated in the investigation of the Siebold Collection at Brandenstein Castle in Germany in a project featuring cooperation with the National Institutes for the Humanities “Research study of Japan-related overseas materials“ and encountered one painting (Photo 5). It is the original illustration of “Edo no Zenkei“ for “NIPPON“, which is a book on Japan published in Europe by Siebold, (Panorama van Jedo, in around 1834-58. The distribution period of this illustration is not known <“Distribution of the restoration of Siebold “NIPPON”“ by Katsunori Miyazaki in the “Bulletin of the Kyushu University Museum, No. 3, 2005“). Judging from the composition of the illustration, it was painted based on the series of Keisai’s bird’s eye views. In the Siebold Collection, “Karaku Ichiranzu“ (Kazan) (owned by Leiden University) and “Kyoto no Zenkei” (Panorama of Kyoto), an illustration for “NIPPON“ and with composition equivalent to “Karaku Ichiranzu“ are included. Therefore, it is considered that “Edo no Zenkei” was painted using the same method. Making illustrations, with some arrangements added, based on the compositions of the early modern paintings was a cliché in “NIPPON“. (“The Original, Rough sketch and Make-up of Siebold “NIPPON““ by Katsunori Miyazaki, “Bulletin of the Kyushu University Museum“, No. 9, 2011). Now, let’s review the so-called foreign-born brother of “Edo Keikan Zu“.
|Photo 5: Suzaki Benten and off Shinagawa (“Edo Meisho no Zu“)||Fig. 6 Suzaki Benten and batteries (“Edo Keikan Zu“)|
The illustration in “NIPPON“ also shows some changes from Keisai’s bird’s eye view, in terms of differing shading, the omission of the rising sun on the upper left of the bird’s eye view, the rice fields are depicted in place of the clouds on the lower right of the bird’s eye view and the bridge piers, fishing nets and timbers are depicted differently. These changes are common to those made in “Edo Keikan Zu“. In “Toto Meisho Zenzu“ by Denzen Aoudo, although no rising sun is shown, the changes are not on the scale of those in the illustration in “NIPPON“. This is because it is illustrated by a western painter as well as by a lithograph. In addition, comparing the illustration in “NIPPON“ with Keisai’s bird’s eye view, the vanishing points seem to come together to some extent for a further perspective, meaning the winding road of Tokaido in the illustration in “NIPPON“ is omitted. Conversely, Edo Castle, the playhouses, the cordon in the north, the winding road along it and the mountains on the upper left of the illustration are depicted in a way more reminiscent of Keisai’s illustration than “Edo Keikan Zu“.
As was already pointed out, Keisai’s bird’s eye view does not depict merely Edo landscape, but is also a guide in which famous Edo spots are positioned to be identified at a glance and represents the prosperity of Edo. (“Basis of “Edo Hito-Me Zu Byobu“ by Keisai Kuwagata““ by Taro Ida, in “Kokubungaku Kenkyu“ 153/154, 2008). The illustration in “NIPPON“ includes no character information, but the illustration in the book owned by Brandenstein Castle, which is expected to be its original painting, includes the characters “Sumidagawa“ (Photo 7) written on the part showing the Sumida River and “29“ written on the part of “Takanawa“. Accordingly, it seems that, as with the Keisai’s bird’s eye view, Siebold initially planned to introduce famous places and their names, adopting a painting method incorporating Western town planning. However, the texts were left out, and there is the possibility that this representation was accepted as “Panorama of Edo“, as indicated by the title, namely, the real landscape, in Europe. This means that the “famous places“, which had been individually emphasized, were now relegated to part of the scenery and rendered insignificant.
|Photo 7: Funeral procession (“Edo Keikan Zu“)|
Next, let’s compare “Edo Keikan Zu“ and the illustration in “NIPPON“. “Edo Keikan Zu“ has more divergences (changes made in the copying process) compared to Keisai’s bird’s eye view and more changes in the depiction described above than the illustration in “NIPPON“. In addition, it includes newly emphasized parts and retouches. In particular, the cherry blossoms, the playhouses (Asakusa Temple, Nezu Shrine, Saruwaka-machi), five batteries in Shinagawa, Daimyo-gyoretsu passing on the Ryogoku Bridge heading east and the funeral procession on the Okawa Bridge heading for Asakusa stand out among other changes.
The five batteries (the first, second, third, fifth and sixth batteries), which were actually set, were arranged off Shinagawa in December of the first year of the Ansei Era (1854) (Photo 9). As a matter of course, they are not depicted in Keisai’s view or the illustration in “NIPPON“ (Photo 8). In the “Replica of Edo Meisho no Zu“, reprinted by Keisai’s grandson, Keirin, the number of batteries is, strangely, four. The fifth of the five batteries was probably added by the painter of “Edo Keikan Zu“.
According to Mr. Shinya Yamada, the funeral procession (Photo 10) is depicted as if it were one held in early modern times, with no-one dressed in white in the procession and many attendees under umbrellas. In addition, leading the procession that resembles Daimyo Gyoretsu, a flag carrier is depicted (Photo 11), reminding us of the painting of Toko (coming to east) of the Meiji Emperor.
|Photo 8: Daimyo Gyoretsu, probably (“Edo Keikan Zu“)|
Presently, although I cannot clarify the orderer, painter, painting time and purpose of “Edo Keikan Zu“, I want to point out that based on differences in the depicted details in the Japanese color on silk paintings, the additions of events reminiscent of those of early modern times and additional divergences from the original painting than shown in “NIPPON“, there is a possibility that “Edo Keikan Zu“ is a representation of “Edo“ by a Japanese painter in early modern times = <historical painting> (“Two representations surrounding the scenery, including people going to Edo Castle - Between Meisho-e and <historical painting> -“ by Iwabuchi in “Nenpo toshishi kenkyu (The urban history annual), Separate Volume, Edo and London“, 2007).
(Research Division of the National Museum of Japanese History, Japan’s urban history in early modern times)