Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/21

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JAPANESE WOOD ENGRAVINGS

The art, so far, was in its rudiments, for none of the pictorial efforts preserved to us call for higher ability than that exercised by the ordinary engravers of the Buddhist texts; and although chronologically the Japanese were in advance of the German and Flemish engravers by several centuries, technically they went little beyond the level of the archaic St. Christopher of 1423, and in no respect approached the powerful work of Dürer and his contemporaries of the sixteenth century. The pictorial engraver appears to have confined his labours to religious leaflets, and although he lived within touch of the masterpieces of the great Buddhist painters he manifested no ambition to reach artistic completeness.

Second Period.

The Second Period begins about 1608, with the appearance of the first illustrated book, and ends about 1680 with the advent of Hishigawa Moronobu, the father of artistic xylography in Japan. Technically it was scarcely in advance of the term just described, but it was rendered significant by the effort to popularise printed literature through the introduction of pictorial embellishments.

The earliest illustrated book at present known is the Isé Monogatari, two copies of which are in the British Museum collection. The first edition of this was printed in 1608 and a second edition with some alterations in 1610, and we may infer that it was a work of some pretensions, from the profusion of the pictorial illustrations and from the quality of the paper on which it was printed. The illustrations, which are cut with only moderate skill and show no special artistic resource, are in the Yamato or native style, and repeat all the conventions of the school, even to the introduction of the fictitious clouds that were devised in the first instance with purely decorative intention in the painting of screens and pictorial rolls. Fig. 5 is a fair example of the work. The Isé Monogatari was followed by a number of other publications of a semi-historical character, amongst which was the Hogen Monogatari (British Museum Collection), dated 1626, containing illustrations in the Yamato style, but much more roughly cut than those of the earlier volumes, and distinguished by the application of a coarse hand-colouring not unlike that of the old English chap-books. The use of hand-colour-