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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Japanese Boats of the Edo Period

On a recent visit to the new Harvard Art Museum, I came across two lovely 6-panel painted folding screens from Japan's Edo period (also called the Tokugawa Period,1603 to 1868) containing images of Japanese small craft.

Japanese Edo screen showing Portuguese trading ship
A Portuguese ship arriving in a Japanese port. Western ships obviously being unfamiliar to the artist, it is not depicted with much verisimilitude. (Click any image to enlarge.)
detail of Japanese Edo screen showing small boat
Detail of the above image, showing a small boat of Japanese appearance ferrying the captain ashore, along with some cargo or gifts. The boat's size is difficult to interpret, given the varying scales of its passengers. The boat is sculled from the stern by a single sculler, but again this might be artistic license. 
Portuguese ship on Japanese Edo screen exhibit card at Harvard Art Museum
The exhibit card for the above images, which show only the left of two folding screens mentioned (the right-hand screen not being of interest to this blog).
Japanese Edo screen showing landscape with small boat
A landscape with a small boat in the foreground (third panel from the left). According to the exhibit card, it "tells the story of the Chinese calligrapher and poet Wang Ziyou (also known as Wang Huishi, 338?-386), who sets out in a small boat to visit his friend Dai Andao on a wintry night. Just as he reaches his destination, however, his inspiration fades, and he returns home alone without completing his visit."
Dai Andao, who had baked a cake, was miffed. "That Wang Ziyou is so goddamned existential," he muttered.
detail of Japanese Edo screen showing small boat
Detail of the above image. The figure in the stern (on the left) appears to be sculling, although his posture makes this ambiguous. It is also unclear if Wang Ziyou is the reclining figure in the bow, or if he is under the canopy and the figure in the bow is performing some other function.
Japanese Edo screen landscape exhibit card at Harvard Art Museum
The exhibit card for the two images above. The screen shown here is the left of the two referenced, the right one not being relevant.


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