November 4, 2020

Honzo Zufu

         Honzo Zufu is a botanical book by Iwasaki Tsunemasa (Japan, 1786-1842), a botanist (among other studies) and samurai.  I gather that he is also the artist who made the gorgeous and scientifically accurate illustrations throughout the book — thousands of illustrations, as the book contains something like 92 volumes.  There is, however, not a lot of available information about this book, and what I could find gave me a fair bit of uncertainty.  Apparently the early volumes were produced in 
wood block print, although sources are contradictory as to whether they were color prints, or black-ink-only prints watercolored afterwards.  Later volumes were originally produced in watercolor, but then it may be that the entire thing was reproduced in wood block print after Iwasaki’s death, but I could not find any versions of that edition on-line.
        But uncertainty is not something any of us needs more of right now, so don’t worry about all that.  What we need is a bit of beauty, and that’s why I picked these pieces to share today.  These particular pieces are all wood block prints, and the really flashy flowering plants appear in the later volumes illustrated in watercolor, but in some ways these quieter plants are more soothing.  Certainly you can admire how Iwasaki arranged his compositions to show off even relatively plain plants to best effect.  He’s one of the few people I know who ranks with Maria Sybilla Merian in presenting science with true artistry, although I don’t know whether he made any scientific discoveries (as Merian did) or simply compiled and presented current knowledge.
        One of the things I find particularly appealing is the way the two-page spreads are used.  Even though each page has its own frame, the plants cross the divide.  Sometimes that’s because a plant is spread wide (or tall, although I haven’t included any with that composition) across the full space, but even when the two pages are devoted to separate plants, as in the third and fourth pictures here, Iwasaki still makes sure to bring some leaves across the divide to unify the spread.  This is very different from, say, Merian or comparable European art.
        My ability to tell you more about the book or the plants themselves is limited by my inability to read Japanese, so while I can identify many of the plants, I don’t know them all.  Just click on the pictures to make them bigger, breathe deeply, and enjoy.

[Pictures: Something in the legume family, Plate 17, Volume 5;

Ferns, Pl. 5, Vol. 6;

I don’t know what, Pl. 14, Vol. 6;

Spider lilies, Pl. 35, Vol. 7;

I don’t know what, Pl. 26, Vol. 8, all from Honzo Zufu by Iwasaki Tsunemasa, c 1828-1844 (All Images from National Diet Library).]


Gwen Buchanan said...

Gorgeous images!!!

Pax said...

Thanks for sharing this calming beauty; just what we need in these stressful days. And nice to have the larger views, too.