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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Japanese Iris

Drawn in 1857, this ukiyo-e print by master Japanese artist Hiroshige Utagawa  (surname first, but also known as Hiroshige Ando) is known as Horikiri no Hanashobu (堀切ノ花菖蒲  - the Flowering Irises at Horikiri).

The ukiyo-e is a height: 35.4 centimeters, and 23.3 centimeters wide, depicting the Iris garden at Horikiri, in Tokyo, with a view between the Iris stalks and leaves where we can see admirers with umbrellas looking at the flowers - female visitors.

First - why is the subject of the Iris Flower important enough for this artist to include in his Meisho Edo hyakkei 名所江戸百景 (One Hundred Famous Views in Edo)?

The grey and violet colors of the iris - the flowering shobu (hanashobu) was first introduced in Europe in 1712 by the Dutchman Engelbert Kaempfer.

Kaempfer had worked in Japan for the Dutch Trading Company, and, with a side hobby, created his book, the Flora Japonica. The scientific name of the Japanese iris is Iris kaempfer, named after him.

The actual flower was brought from Japn to Europe in the late 1850s (around the time of this drawing, in fact), and its beauty caused an Iris craze all over the continent.

It was at the very same time, that Japan was opening its doors to the world, and some 20 years later, this very same Horikiri Iris Garden became a much visited sightseeing stop for European tourists.

This garden is known as Horikiri Shobuen - the Sweet Flag Iris Garden in Tokyo, northeast of the Imperial Palace in what was then the village of Horikiri.

In this ukiyo-e print, behind the flower stalks in the foreground - and perhaps unnoticed to the casual observer, we can see Japanese women admiring the beauty of the Japanese iris... but look at the view WE have!

We are peering from down low and behind the irises in the foreground... as though we are secretly watching the women... we are the voyeur!

An additional fact for those of you into art, when Hiroshige drew this view, it was considered revolutionary by the art world.

This low-level view... this peeping Tom peek into the world... it's commonplace in 21st century art... but Hiroshige... he, if he did not invent it, he made it famous.

Ukiyo-e art was highly sought after by Europeans for the new and oft-dynamic views of the world they presented.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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