BEGINNING OF WOOD-ENGRAVING
Mitsunobu and many others. Illustrated books by Mitsunobu appeared in Osaka, 1724, in Kioto, 1750, and a book with scenes of war in 1756.
2. Moronobu and his Contemporaries.—The real history of Japanese wood-engraving does not begin until the seventies of the seventeenth century. As so often happens in the history of art, a single richly gifted man, appearing at the right time, suddenly elevated the art to its fullest height. In this case Moronobu was the elect of Providence. At the beginning of his activity there was no such thing as colour-printing. His own sheets are still without exception done in black and white, and only occasionally relieved with a little colour applied by hand; and another fifty years were destined to pass after his death before a series of the most various experiments, at first in hand-colouring, then in two-block, and lastly in three-block printing, culminated in the perfect polychrome print, untrammelled in its choice of means. But with this last, world-famous phase of Japanese wood-engraving the work of Moronobu had no immediate connection. Even if the subsequent development had not reached this point, he would still have maintained the place he holds in the history of Japanese wood-engraving, for his significance lies not only in the fact that he was a forerunner and a pioneer, but in the eminence to which he advanced in his own individual achievement.
It was, to be sure, a great step forward when the ordinary illustrations, intended only to entertain the general public and turned out ever since the beginning of the seventeenth century in the traditional style and with no special care, were suddenly replaced by pictures that were, alike in conception and execution, works of art. We must also count it an especial merit of Moronobu that he took up and awakened to new life the popular art created by Matahei in the first half of the
- Cat. Burty, No. 539.