August 5, 2020

Moronobu's Birds and Flowers

        Hishikawa Moronobu (Japan, 1618-1694) was the most important ukiyo-e printmaker of his day.  Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints celebrating the pleasures of the hedonistic lifestyle of Edo (now Tokyo) from the 17th-19th centuries.  These woodblock prints were popular with a newly wealthy merchant class.  Although this genre is full of images of beautiful women and kabuki actors, it also included depictions of flora and fauna, and that’s what I have for you today.  I’ve been having a lot of fun recently trying to take photographs of goldfinches in the rudbeckia and hummingbirds in the lilies, so it seems timely to appreciate Moronobu’s pictures of birds and flowers right now.
        This first piece includes lilies the same color as mine, although I certainly don’t have pheasants preening beside mine!  (Turkeys might be plausible, although we usually don’t see much of them in the summer, but there are definitely no pheasants around here.)  You can
see that these pictures come from a book, and all the pages have the same layout, with the widest margin at the top, and the text above the pictures.  The color here is not printed, but hand-painted afterwards.
        Next up is a dove.  We have plenty of mourning doves around here, and they’re one of my favorites, with their gentle call falling heavily in the summer air.  The flowers to the left look a bit like our stewartia, although they could probably be a lot of things.  Anyway, the stewartia is past its flowering now.  You can see a grey smudge across that page which is presumably the painted ink showing through from the back, which is a shame.
        All of today’s pieces come from the same woodblock printed book entitled, fittingly, Birds and Flowers.  This third piece is unusual in that it is only a single page picture instead of a double-page spread, with an unrelated picture on the facing page.  The coloring of the purple flags is faint enough to be ignorable.  I especially like the composition of this one, with the bird behind the flowers.
        This last is really my favorite, even though it’s not a bird.  (I tend to take a lot of photographs of dragonflies, too, though.)  I like the variety of plants, with busy, many-petalled mums, some larger twining flower, a few sprigs of bamboo with solid black leaves for contrast, and the interesting black buds or seed pods in the left-hand panel.
        It’s a great reminder to keep your eyes open for the interesting flora and fauna all
around, even if you don’t have an extensive garden or natural areas nearby.  It’s a blessing to notice not only the beauty of birds and bugs and flowers, but also their pairings.  It’s wonderful to see the world at work around us, everything living and growing in its own best way.  And it’s delightful to see how artists through the ages have captured and shared that wonder.

[Images from Birds and Flowers, wood block prints by Hishikawa Moronobu, 1683 (Images from The Met).]

1 comment:

Pax said...

Lovely prints, thanks. I especially appreciate the advice to pay attention to the interconnectedness of living things in the world around us. We live in -- and are a part of -- an amazing and wonderful world.