Summary of the October 10 Lecture
At the October meeting, held on a national holiday, our Organization Committee
Chairman, Mr. Aaron Cohen, once again stood in for the President, who was
still travelling overseas; though president-less, we were very happy to
be joined again by our Senior Vice-President, Dr.
Douglas Kenrick, albeit in a wheelchair after his stroke in May. Mr.
Cohen announced that copies of the updated Constitution were now available
for members to pick up, and gave notice that the tour of the Nezu Museum
originally scheduled for October 1st had been postponed to the 22nd. He
then introduced our speaker, Professor Lia Beretta, who addressed us on
the subject of "Edoardo Chiossone", showing a number of slides
of Chiossone's life and work.
Professor Beretta began by saying that she had a certain sentimental interest
in researching the life of Chiossone, as she had come from the same part
of Italy and had studied at the university of his hometown, Genoa. She had
played a part in arranging the exhibition of Chiossone's work held at the
Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo in 1976; at that time he was so little
known that they had had no difficulty in borrowing the portraits painted
by him, and she had transported them in her car (three years ago, when they
had tried again to borrow a portrait of Ohkubo Toshimichi, they had eventually
given up because of the bureaucratic red tape involved!).
Edoardo Chiossone, who was born in Arenzano, near Genoa, in 1833, was a
typical Genoese, reserved but adventurous and hardworking, not a socialite
but fond of company and of a friendly disposition, the kind of nature that
won him the affection of the Japanese. In 1847 he enrolled in the Accademia
Ligustica, where he specialized in engraving, and graduated in 1855. In
1857 he entered the atelier of Raffaele Granara and made several engravings
of famous art works, as was the custom in those days. In 1867 he started
working for the Italian National Bank and was sent to the Dondorf-Naumann
company in Frankfurt to be trained in the making of paper money. While he
was there, the company began making bank notes for the Japanese government,
and in 1874 he was sent to London to learn new printing techniques. At this
point he was invited to go to Japan, and accepted; it is not clear what
attracted him to the idea, but at least he had no matrimonial ties to hold
him back. He arrived in Japan on January 12th, 1875, with two German technicians,
one of whom returned in 1877, while the other died in 1880. The government
Printing Bureau (Insatsu Kyoku) was under the directorship of Tokuno Ryohsuke,
who was eager to introduce modern machinery and techniques. The practical
implementation of this policy was entirely the work of Chiossone, who founded
printing companies such as Toppan Insatsu, trained the Japanese in printing
techniques, designed official papers and stamps, taught the art of making
printing ink and printing paper (with a watermark in it), and, not least,
taught how to make many copies from one plate (up to that time forgers must
have had a field day!).
After five months he was offered a three-year contract with a monthly salary
of 450 yen and a house; this was one of the highest salaries paid to a foreigner,
and twice that of Antonio Fontanesi who was hired to teach oil painting,
and his house was outside the foreign enclave in Tsukiji (he lived first
in Kanda and then in Kohjimachi, with a retinue of servants). (The Japanese
were surprised that he accepted the salary offered without question, but
Chiossone said this was natural as he had agreed to come to Japan on their
terms.) At the end of 1875 he made his first portrait, an engraving of the
German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold. He also designed the "koban"
stamps which came out in 1876, with a watermark; as there was a taboo against
using the emperor's portrait, he had to resort to other images, such as
the imperial chrysanthemum. (A commemorative
stamp will be issued in November, in the series on the history of the
post office, with Chiossone's portrait and a reproduction of the old stamps.)
Other portraits followed in 1876, those of Ohkubo Toshimichi (one of the
Meiji "triumvirate", who was assassinated in 1878), Saigoh Tsugumichi
(younger brother of Takamori, who was Minister of the Navy and Home Minister),
and W.C. Ralston of the Bank of California. The next year the Emperor Meiji,
attended by a hundred persons including Prince Arisugawa and Iwakura Tomomi
(the leader of the mission to the U.S. and Europe in 1871-73), visited the
Printing Bureau and Chiossone's working room (destroyed in the 1923 earthquake).
That year Chiossone also designed the first bank note, a one-yen note with
the figure of Daikoku, the god of wealth. The next year he produced the
first bank note containing a human figure, the image of the legendary Empress
Jinguu (looking like an Italian Renaissance beauty!).
In 1879 he went on a trip around Japan with Tokuno Ryohsuke to record ancient
art works and monuments; 510 photographs were taken and Chiossone made 200
drawings. Tokuno recorded in his diary, published ten years later, that
the two of them had had long conversations. The fruits of this trip were
illustrated albums produced between 1880 and 1883; an album of ancient coins
had also already been produced in 1878, three years before the arrival of
Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, American philosopher and Japanese art researcher,
all this showing that Fenollosa was not the first to stir up an artistic
consciousness. In 1882 Chiossone sent a collection of oriental musical instruments
to the Milan Exhibition; they were donated to the city but were lost in
World War II. The next year the Printing Bureau sent some of Chiossone's
engravings to the Boston Exhibition, as specimens of the modern work now
being produced in Japan.
It was in the same year of 1883 that Chiossone was asked to make a portrait
of Saigoh Takamori, who had already been dead for six years; for this purpose
he combined the features of Saigoh brother and a cousin of his, and this
became the standard portrait and the model for the statue in Ueno Park.
Chiossone also made a portrait of Tokuno two months before he died in that
year, and designed his tombstone. We have a record of the reputation Chiossone
had acquired by this time in the words of the Belgian ambassador's wife,
who went to tea with him and saw his collection of Japanese art objects;
she said they all reflected his taste. In 1886 he was made an honorary member
of the Ryuuchikai, a society of Western art, and made a portrait of Prince
Arisugawa Takahito, which was followed the next year by one of Kido Takayoshi
(another of the "triumvirate" and tutor to the young Emperor).
In 1888 he received his highest recognition, when he was asked to produce
a portrait of the Emperor, to be used as the official state portrait. The
only existing portrait at that time was a photograph taken ten years before,
and the Emperor refused to be photographed again. So the grand chamberlain
Tokudaiji Sanemori arranged that Chiossone should sketch the Emperor at
the palace from behind a screen. From his sketches he made two faithful
likenesses of Meiji, one in military uniform and the other in civilian clothes,
and these were then photographed and became the official "photographs"
of the Emperor and served as the basis of all the familiar representations
of Meiji. In recognition of his services, Chiossone was invited to lunch
at the Palace.
Besides being engaged in painting portraits, which included further portraits
of the Empress, the future Emperor Taishoh, General Oyama Iwao, Iwakura
Tomomi and Sanjoh Sanetomi (a court noble active in politics), Chiossone
was constantly kept busy at the Printing Bureau, producing plates for notes,
stamps and bonds; in 1888 he produced a 5-yen bank note with the figure
of Sugawara Michizane (9th century) on it, and, as his last work before
retiring, a 100-yen note with Fujiwara Katamari (614-669) on it. In 1891
he retired with 3,000 yen taishokukin (severance pay) and an annual pension
of 1,200 yen.
After retirement he still continued to work. In 1893 he completed the copper
plate engraving of his portrait of Meiji, and in 1895 made a second portrait
of General Oyama, and one of his second wife Oyama Sutematsu and another
of General Kawakami Sohroku. Sutematsu, who was 18 years younger than her
husband, had travelled with the Iwakura mission when she was twelve, and
studied at Vassar; on her return she was regarded as an authority on Western
etiquette and played her part as hostess at the Rokumeikan. Other portraits
followed in 1896, those of Prince Arisugawa Taruhito and Prince Kitashirakawa.
On April 11th, 1898, Chiossone died of heart failure at his home in Kohjimachi,
and was buried in Aoyama Cemetery (where his tomb can be seen in the foreign
section). The papers brought out long articles on his death, and the "Japan
Weekly Mail" spoke of his high reputation both for his artistic ability
and for his friendly nature.
Many of the portraits by Chiossone have been lost, and others only survive
in reproduction, such as the likeness of Fukuzawa Yukichi on the 10,000
yen note; they can all be said to have been faithful likenesses. Chiossone
was clearly a friend of all the leading people of the day, the doors evidently
being opened for him by Tokuno Ryohsuke,who was a Satsuma man like Saigoh
and Ohkubo, and came to Tokyo with them, and whose daughter married Saigoh
Tsugumichi who became an influential leader. Another friend was Machida
Hisanari, born in Satsuma, who pioneered the study of ancient Japanese art
and archaeology, and probably helped Chiossone. It must have been because
of these friendships that Chiossone decided to stay on after retirement,
and he is a rare example of a foreigner who died in this country and never
came into conflict with the government.
Under the terms of his will, his art collection of 15,000 items was donated
to the Accademia Ligustica in Genoa, and in 1905 was housed in the Edoardo
Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art, which was rebuilt in 1971 and is the only
individual collection outside Japan that remains intact; a list of all the
items was sent, but Chiossone's detailed classification was lost in the
transport. It is not known what happened to his personal belongings, but
his household staff received bequests, and 3,000 yen was distributed among
the poor people of Kohjimachi.
Vote of Thanks
For this occasion a very apposite person was invited to give the vote of
thanks. He was Mr. Yoshi Fukunaga, director of the Printing Bureau Memorial
Museum, who spoke of the debt they owed to Chiossone, thanks to who Japanese
currency notes were of the highest quality. The meeting was also attended
by Mr. Takashi Uemura, advisory curator of the Printing Bureau's Banknote
and Postage Stamp Museum.
Adapted from "The Asiatic Society of
Japan Bulletin No. 9", November 1994, compiled by Hugh Wilkinson.
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