Engraving, calligraphy, and painting: Arzamas has compiled instructions on how to view Japanese art.
Europeans became acquainted with Japanese art in the second half of the XIX century, after the invasion of the American squadron of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. At international exhibitions, it made a splash, and everything Japanese immediately became fashionable: kimonos, screens, porcelain, engravings. “Japanism” penetrated into European painting and decorative arts, influencing the Impressionists, post-Impressionists and masters . Yet for most, Japanese art was still a curiosity: the paintings looked like unfinished sketches, the scrolls looked like wallpaper, and the etching looked like a caricature. And even today, many aspects of Japanese art are not fully understood by the Western audience. How to understand it?
Japanese painting was based on the principles developed in Ancient China: the genre system, the ideological foundations of painting, symbolism and many other purely artistic means were borrowed from the continent at the same time as Buddhism. The genre system was strikingly different from the European one. Even the most seemingly understandable landscape in the tradition of the Far East has its own characteristics.
What is the Japanese landscape?
The main idea is hidden in the name: the Japanese word sansui and the Chinese word Shan-shui are translated as “mountains and waters”. This is not portraying a corner of nature, but creating an image of an ideal cosmic order based on natural philosophy.Natural philosophy also dictates the features of other genres — for example, “flowers and birds”, as well as “flowers and insects” and even decorative painting on screens, sliding partitions and walls. . Mountains and waters represent the opposites that make up the driving force of the universe. The masculine and feminine elements, the firm and the soft changeable, the light and the dark (everything that forms a pair of yang and yin) – opposites that endlessly generate each other and are present in each other, form the harmony of the universe, the reflection of which (and at the same time the statement) is the main task of the artist. Oriental landscape, as a rule, is speculative, it is the fruit of the cabinet work of the artist-thinker. Realism, similarity, copying of nature, which became the basis of classical Western painting, had no absolute value for the Japanese.
How to read the scrolls.
The format of a horizontal or vertical scroll is related to the shape of a roll of silk — one of the earliest writing media in the Far East. Painting on scrolls of silk or paper has no frame; there is no clear border between the image and the surrounding space. That is why the first Western collectors had an association with wallpaper. The European view found it difficult to adapt both to the technique of painting and to the organization of space in the image. In classical Japanese painting, space is built using a special system of techniques. Clearly marked with details (buildings on the shore, boats on the water, etc.) or tonal accents, the plans of the composition on the vertical scrolls are easily stratified, often separated from each other by foggy bands of emptiness. These pauses in the image and diagonal compositions help to move slowly from the foreground to the distant ones, creating the effect of the depth of the landscape.
Shugetsu. Chinese-style landscape. No later than 1529 Honolulu Museum of Art.
In the horizontal scrolls, which are designed to be viewed slowly from right to left, this “temporary” aspect of painting is even more obvious. In the landscape of Master Shugetsu, the viewer “enters” the image from the empty space of water and sky on the right side of the scroll, talks with poets and sages on the rocky shore, admires an old pine tree, and “rises” to the gazebo, from where he can see the dark outline of the gentle mountains in the background, and then, deeper and higher, to the distant peaks of the third plan,
Why the houses are depicted without roofs.
The absence in the classical repertoire of Far Eastern painting of scenes in enclosed spaces and urban landscapes made the linear perspective irrelevant. And where it was necessary to adhere to strict geometric forms, the imagination came to the aid of both the artist and the viewer again.
In Japanese Yamato-e painting from the Heian era, the “interior with the roof removed” technique was used to depict scenes in the palace chambers, when the artist and the viewer looked at what was happening in the palace halls from above, as if looking into a doll’s house and seeing a fragment of the room with beveled beams, curtains and characters sitting in them.
An illustration for one of the chapters of The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. Circa 1130 徳川美美 (Tokugawa Art Museum)
This technique, which appeared in the XII century in illustrated scrolls (the so-called emakimono ), was later widely used in the painting of screens or movable partitions of fusuma in palace and castle interiors. Japanese masters generally liked a bird’s-eye view that opened up a wide picture of festivities, military operations, or urban views. To emphasize this high point of view, the remoteness of objects and their separation from each other, the unkin technique was used . Clumps of trees, shown as if from above, or decorative gilded stylized clouds allowed to divide the plane of the image into registers and plans. The term unkin itself consists of the hieroglyphs “cloud” and ” brocade»: this is a reference to the lush clouds of cherry blossoms and the brocade of autumn reddening maples, through which the landscapes are shown.
Monk Yukinagi. The Imperial procession to Ohara (illustration for “The Tale of the House of Taira”). Edo period, early 17th century The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Separated from each other, the fragments of the imperial procession seem to be spaced apart, and each of them has its own perspective. The artist follows the principle of “moving perspective”, when in one work there are many points of view and points of convergence of perspective.
Saen Hosai (Siyua Fanzi). A lane on a plum branch. Edo period, XVIII century The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As for modeling the volume of objects, the transitions from the rich color of ink to watercolor transparency were designed not so much to convey the real light-and-shadow ratios, but to reveal the” backbone ” of the form, which can inspire a sense of volume. And the pictorial background often disappears completely from the pictorial text, causing the surface of the paper or silk to work as an infinite space.
Almost all the principles of Far Eastern painting are somehow applicable to the works of calligraphy — the art of beautiful writing. The first reason for this kinship lies in the commonality of the materials and tools of writing and painting. Brush and ink, paper or silk dictate the same features of visual language: a brush stroke that forms the outline of a mountain or a bamboo trunk is not much different from a feature in writing a hieroglyph. In writing and painting, the movements of the artist’s hand are the same. Similarly, the master adjusts the thickness and brightness of the line or spot by pressing the brush, the speed of writing, and the saturation of the brush with water.
The second reason is the complex nature of the hieroglyph. The hieroglyph has a form, color, compositional connection with the format of the work and other elements of the image. As a written sign that goes back to the pictogram-a schematized, simplified image of a real object-it retains a distant connection with the form of an object or natural phenomenon (and the closest to the pictogram are hieroglyphs that denote stable natural forms: mountain, water, fire, man, and others). As a sign of writing, it has a phonetic sound and meaning that is associated with a number of literary, religious or philosophical associations.
Handwriting systems: kaise, gese, and sose.
The calligrapher of the Far East creates a calligraphic work, not just to fix the meaning, but to express and embody the idea of a single word, a whole poem or prose work. At the same time, as a rule, it is associated with well-established forms of written signs: the basis of calligraphy is a system of handwriting, each of which has semantic nuances and corresponds to the author’s idea.
The neutral and easy-to-read statutory style of kaisho is closest to printed signs; the “semi-cursive” (“running style”) of gese is freer and more expressive, more dynamic and flexible: the brush movements are smoother and more seamless. But the most expressive potential is sose, or “grass writing”, in which individual characters merge into smoothly curving lines, similar to tangled or creeping grasses. The calligrapher shortens written signs by omitting or combining small elements.
Honyami Koetsu. Calligraphy of a poem from the collection “Shin kokin waka-shu”, decorated with images of deer, in the style of sose. No later than 1637 moa美美美 (Art Museum in Atami)
Hieroglyphic writing came to Japan from China. To adapt it to the Japanese language, by the end of the first millennium, two syllabic alphabets were created — hiragana and katakana, which complemented the hieroglyphic texts. Hiragana characters, often found in calligraphy along with hieroglyphs, formed a special coherent creeping text, which, in the great master of the XVII century, Honyami Koetsu, turns the lines of poetry into an extension of hanging ivy shoots or grass and bushes in which deer graze.