Compare and contrast the representation of nature in two artworks from the Edo period (1603-1868). What are the underlying meanings of natural forms in these works, and how do they engage with social and/or spiritual and/or political contexts?
The artists Ogata Korin and Ando Hiroshige explore nature and the spiritual connection to the land in their works. Through the use of diverse techniques and materials the two artists explore the themes of nature. The two artists
Though already well established Japanese landscape art flourished during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573–1603) when the Kano School was founded. Kano Eitoku developed a style in which monumental landscapes were painted on sliding doors, enclosing a room. Both Hiroshige and Korin studied under the Kano School, learning the various techniques of the trade. During the early Edo period, Sotatsu created a decorative style by using bright coloured forms and motifs from the natural world and placed them up against a gold-leaf background. Approximately a century later Korin, uses these techniques in his own works such as Irises and Eight-planked Bridge.
The natural world is the main subject of art at the time because of its religious symbolism. In Japan the two primary religions are Shintoism and Buddhism, both religions believe that nature is a significant part of life. Zen Buddhism has a focus on meditation and intuition, while reiterating the impermanence and transience of all phenomena in both nature and human affairs. The Shinto religion asserts that kami, translated as a spirit or a spiritual essence, imbue natural forms and live in coexistence, in the same realm, as humans. Certain locations have more kami than others and therefore these places are often depicted in Edo period art. Most important artists throughout the Edo period, such as Tawaraya Sotatsu and Katsushika Hokusai as well as Ogata Korin and Ando Hiroshige depicted these areas.
The Edo Period also known as the Tokugawa Period (1603 – 1858) was a time of peace and prosperity. The Tokugawa Shogunate was the last feudal Japanese military government, where the Shogun ruled from Edo Castle hence the name for the period. The inhabitants of Japan were prohibited from traveling outside of the country after the 1630’s, under the Policy of National Seclusion. This policy allowed Japanese art to distinctly evolve into a unique style. The Japanese stylistic approach to nature and landscape is present in both the works of Korin and Hiroshige. Art during this period was influenced by the Shogun’s ruling and prestigious artists would be commissioned to do work directly for him. This art was commonly filled with auspicious imagery and had nature as its subject. The decorative aspects of the painting were esteemed at the time and used not only to impress the Shogun, but also to show the owners social hierarchy. In decorative art, showing an opinion or a protest was seen as a hindrance, it would detract from the beauty of the work itself.
Ando (or Utagawa) Hiroshige, is known as the last Great Master in the Japanese tradition of woodblock printing, also known as Ukiyo-e. He was immensely popular in Japan as well as proving a powerful influence on Western artists such as Whistler, Cezanne and Van Gogh. Van Gogh copied several of his works including Evening Squall on Great Bridge in Atake and Plum Garden at Kameido. He mainly produced landscape prints, presenting a gracious and deeply poetic view of nature, which was uniquely his own. Hiroshige lost both his parents at a young age and it is said that he found his peace of mind in the world of natural beauty that he depicted in his landscapes. Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake, a woodblock print by Hiroshige was part of the series 100 Famous Views of Edo. This series, destined for the public was a great success and was often reprinted. The Shinto edict of honoring the experience of nature is evident in this scene of daily life where, the rain is the most important visual aspect of the print. This typical heavy summer shower is called Yuudachi, in Japanese, and was a common feature in Hiroshige’s works. It is depicted through the use of two sets of parallel lines, a technique extremely difficult in woodblock printing and which became known in Europe as Hiroshige rain. The composition of the work is full of movement, represented by diagonals. The scene is tightened through the upper part of the print, which illustrates a thick section of black thunder clouds. Since the horizon line is not evident, the river bank on Atake takes on its role. The diagonal line of the river bank opposes the diagonal of the bridge constructing a zigzag line, creating movement throughout the print. This line is bisected by the rain which also composes a new element of movement.
Ogata Korin known for his screen paintings, lacquer work and textile designs used his knowledge of the family business, Karigane-ya, to explore these mediums and styles. He was employed as the designer of women’s clothing for the Shogun’s court, his decorative style comes from this background. His non outlining technique was highly admired during and even after his death. His design work at the Karigane-ya almost always incorporated circles. Korin’s Eight-planked bridge (Yatsuhashi in japanese) uses elegance and refinement incorporating Buddhist and Shinto ideals. This work is a pair of sixfold screens, known as byobu. The byobu is traditionally a folding screen made from multiple joined panels, usually bearing decorative paintings and/or calligraphy, and used to separate interiors. The screens would have been commissioned for a wealthy private patron as he used expensive materials, such as gold leaf and an intimate depiction of nature. The subject matter is an interpretation of one of the scenes of the Tales of Ise, a collection of poems, depicting an intimate scene of a leisure bridge through a garden of blooming irises. The idea of contemplating nature and perceiving this event of flowers in bloom is in line with the Shinto belief of experiencing natural occurrences. The groomed iris garden is a fitting scene for a domestic object, serene, peaceful, orderly, contemplative and controlled. To portray the damp, saturated planks of wood Korin shows his unparalleled technical prowess through the technique called Tarashikomi, in which a second layer of paint is applied before the first layer is dry. Tarashikomi, meaning “drippin in”, is an effective technique used when depicting aqueous puddles. This technique was used by Sotatsu, who Korin admired deeply. The use of this technique provokes ideas of decaying and the impermanence of the wood, this therefore invokes the Zen Buddhist belief that all things are intranscient. Korin used a basic approach to composition, incorporating patterned themes of nature and includes circles to combine them harmoniously and to create a circular motion whilst viewing the work. The work Eight-planked Bridge depicts a cluster of irises to the bottom section of the panels, forming a rich varied mat of malachite green and azurite blue against a gold leafed background. This style of art is formal and flat with the flowers resembling cutouts. These are the composition and colour principles of decorative painting. The lack of framework in the painting plunges the viewer into the scene, this is accentuated by the dimensions of the work, allowing an immersive view to take place.
Linear perspective was a new influence for Japanese art and brought in by the Dutch. Books of linear perspective were distributed in the country by the Dutch East India Company.
Though Korin does not use traditional methods of perspective, the Yatsuhashi, is shown with depth through the use of the folds in the panel. The lack of perspective is seen in Hiroshige’s Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake. The print has different layers of depth but does not correspond with the traditional ideals of linear perspective, the first and foremost layer is the rain, then the bridge followed by water and then the shadow of Atake in the background. Traditional european perspective did not catch on in Japan, Japanese art during the Edo period veered towards the decorative style, creating a flattened space, rather than autonomous style which allows the eye to recede into depth.