Summary of the October 10 Lecture

"Edoardo Chiossone", by Professor Lia Beretta

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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