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JAPANESE WOOD ENGRAVINGS

Fourth Period.

The Fourth Period, extending from about 1710 to 1828, was both the longest and the most representative of the terms into which the progress of xylography may be divided. In this time the technical details of the art were perfected; colour-printing rose from its first and simplest processes to the highest point of achievement; and a wealth of admirable book and broadside illustrations was produced that rendered incalculable service to industrial art as well as to knowledge in nearly all its branches, and ministered largely to the healthy amusement of a people who are as thorough and hearty in their play as in their work.

As the period was especially characterised by the development of chromoxylography, the history of this branch of engraving may be considered first.

Chromoxylography in the Fourth Period.

The Japanese lay no claim to the invention of colour-printing as a process of wood engraving. Not only were they anticipated by the Chinese, from whom they doubtless took their first lessons, but the sixteenth century camaieu prints of Italy and Germany were practically identical in manner of execution, and displayed technical merit equal to that of the best Japanese engravings; but nothing yet seen in Chinese or European chromoxylography bears any comparison in point of beauty with the low-priced broadsides of Japan in the last half of the eighteenth century. If the Japanese were not the originators of this art, they were by far its best exponents.

The exact date of the earliest chromoxylographic prints still remains open to doubt; but it is certain that the Chinese preceded Japan in this as in so many other sections of art. The first application of the process in Japan is said to have been by one Idzumiya Gonshiro, who lived at the end of the seventeenth century, and made use of a second block to stamp certain parts of his design with béni, a red colour extracted from a kind of safflower; and Mr. Satow, quoting from an author named Sakakibara, refers to the printing in colours of a portrait of Ichikawa Danjiuro, the histrionic ancestor of the present leader of the Japanese stage, for sale in the Yedo streets in 1695. None of these