Continuing from my last post, another brief overview of three books I was fortunate to obtain at the Freer/Sackler’s museum shop clearance sale a few weeks ago.
A “proceedings” volume from a symposium on scientific research into Asian art, this volume is extremely technical and not in any way a light read. It’s essentially journal articles – science journal articles – about research done on materials, technology & techniques, and conservation. The articles are loaded with numbers and figures and very technical scientific terminology.
And most of it is of little interest to me, to be honest. Bronzes and iron objects, jewelery, glass, and ceramics. But! There are two essays on East Asian painting pigments, including one specifically on ukiyo-e. This is of great interest to me. A similar volume from two years later (2005) is devoted more exclusively to “the pictorial arts of Asia”, and includes essays of even greater interest, such as “The Identification and Light Sensitivity of Japanese Woodblock Print Colorants: The Impact on Art History and Preservation” and “Dayflower Blue: Its Appearance and Lightfastness in Traditional Japanese Prints.” Note to self – find this volume in the Freer/Sackler Library and xerox those two essays.
It seems to me an unusual practice to publish multiple versions of an exhibit catalog – one with essays, one with images, and one that’s sort of both. It’s not something I would generally think of doing, nor something I’ve often seen done. But, in the end, I guess it works out, because it means you can get more essays than would fit in the “general audience” volume, and make an Essays volume that’s more affordable because it has no full-color pictures in it.
Putting aside the issue of ever having the time to actually read this, I’m glad to have gotten the Essays volume. It covers several subjects which are among the weaker points in my knowledge of Japanese history – the Heian period, history of the Imperial family and Imperial patronage, and calligraphy.
I’m sure that few of my friends over at The Samurai Archives would express much interest at all in calligraphy, and I too to a large extent held that view as well. Poetry, literature, and calligraphy are simply among those aspects that just have always intimidated me and never intrigued me so much. But, what does interest me, or what has come to interest me since my time in Kyoto last summer, is the lineages of major calligraphy families. Like any other family – Imperial lines, samurai families, or lineages of kabuki actors – there are here names and dates, interesting anecdotes and interesting figures. The way one figure connects into another, forming a web of interactions and relationships, and relationships to greater figures and events of broader significance, is one of the key things I look for and get a kick out of in history – regardless of time, place, or aspect. And these families do have important and strong connections to those of broader significance. As I understand it, Fujiwara no Teika, to take just one example, was a hugely influential and significant figure in Heian period poetry, and in shaping the future of Japanese poetry for a very long time, as his disciples and descendants split into houses or factions over which versions of given poetry collections they would follow and uphold as the genuine article – his, or others. And he’s a Fujiwara. He and nearly everyone else involved in these circles and intrigues were very closely involved in court politics, and in direct relations, by blood or by marriage, to emperors and to many other figures of great import. … If I were to ever get involved in poetry or calligraphy, this is where I make my focus.
Finally, we have a truly gorgeous catalog, in brilliant full color, on glossy paper, of works from the collection of Joe & Etsuko Price, California-based collectors who I mainly know for their collection of works by Edo period “Eccentric” artist Itô Jakuchû.
I’m not sure there’s much more to say about this book, quite frankly. Just that I am extremely happy to have found a copy for such a low price, and to now have this book with so many gorgeous images in it, including Nagasawa Rôsetsu’s Elephant & Oxen, and Jakuchû’s “Birds, Animals, and Flowering Plants in Imaginary Scene“, and many many more.
The volume is a little sparse on essays, but contains, in the back, good sections on each artwork – a paragraph or two. Actually, I think I might prefer having this stuff in the back, as this way it doesn’t detract from the images. Also cuts down on price, I would imagine, since this allows you to have plain, regular paper for all the text, reserving the nice glossy paper (and black backgrounds! that’s a lot of ink.) for the image pages. The text treatments in the back also include B&W details of the seals and signatures, which I am sure many scholars would want to look at.
If for nothing else, this will be a great book to scan images out of to use on this here blog, and in lectures if and when I ever end up actually teaching a class.