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Painting Edo—An Introduction

Painting Edo—An Introduction

(stringed instrument playing lightly) – (Rachel Saunders) Edo is
both a time and a place. The Edo period runs from 1615 to 1868 and it was a time of great change. 260 feudal domains that had
been at war with each other began to be unified under the supreme
military ruler the shogun. We see increased urbanization and economic development during this time. The shogun’s headquarters
was in the city of Edo and it’s the place that
we know today as Tokyo. Painting Edo is in fact
going to be the largest special exhibition we
have ever mounted here at the Harvard Art Museums. And it will showcase more
than 120 of the finest early modern Japanese paintings, from the collection of
Robert and Betsy Feinberg. Edo’s pictorial culture
was incredibly rich culturally complex and prolific. And these are the images that today, still inform our impressions of Japan. This is one of the more unusual
objects in the exhibition. It’s a very playful fan and it shows two of Japan’s
most sacred mountains. Mount Fuji to the West of Edo and Mount Tsukuba North East of the city. And the painter has used the
translucency of the paper, to allow the silhouette of each
mountain to form the other. This is a pair of screens
that depict the arrival of the Portuguese in Japan. A moment of cultural encounter. One of the earliest for
Japan with the outside world. And their called Nanban screens, Nanban translates to
“Southern barbarians.” The words that were used when
the Europeans first arrived on the shores of Japan. So behind the foreigners procession, we can see the Japanese
residents of the town, who are looking out curiously
through the lattice windows of these buildings that they’re passing. So this is one of the
most spectacular paintings I think in the exhibition. It’s painted by Madu Yama Okyo, who is an 18th century painter. In the neck and the chest
and the body of the bird, we have a real sense that
beneath his patterned feathers, there’s anatomically
correct bone structure. Okyo is here experimenting with some ideas of Western depth in painting, that are rather new in
the 18th century in Japan. And so it’s this fusion, that makes this very
alluring, accessible image. The Feinberg collection is
incredibly comprehensive. This means that there should
be something for everybody. Whether you’re interested in seeing images of the floating world, actors and courtesans, ink landscapes, literati painting. Or the more decorative
School of Rinpa painting, with a great emphasis on the use of gold and mineral pigments. Or whether you simply want to
enjoy spotting your favorite birds and flowers, which I’m sure you’ll find here. (ethereal music playing)

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