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These rare, beautiful original diptych ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) books recording the selected history of the Tokugawa shogunate 德川幕府 ruling Japan from 1603 to 1868 were published in 1880 (Meiji 13)--one of their values lies in the stunning prints of Hasegawa Sadanobu II 長谷川貞信 (1848-1940), the second of six generations of Hasegawas, born in Osaka.  


From his father and Utagawa Yoshiume 歌川芳梅 (1819-1879), Hasegawa Sadanobu II learned the art of prints and paintings. The subjects of his art are diverse: sumo, drama, history, landscape, and Meiji’s Japan, just to list a few. His paintings on modernized Japan and feminine beauty, as demonstrated on the covers of these diptych ukiyo-e, are his most famous.


These diptych ukiyo-e prints are resplendent in vivid Japanese red—carmine red—symbolic of the sumptuous world of the Tokugawa shogunate. In the Meiji period, carmine red, along with other new colors, were introduced from overseas. Carmine red is more intense and solid than the traditional Beni red (a natural red made from safflower) used in Japan. Beni red is lighter and more transparent, and in ukiyo-e prints it can be seen applied, typically only for a small portion because it was an expensive color (only 1% of red can be found in a safflower). During the Tokugawa (or Edo) period, its usage was curbed by the sumptuary laws. Economical and more cheerful, carmine red, a brighter red, perhaps, well captured the spirit of Meiji Japan: a nation reborn, renewed, and reformed, with a surge of energy. On these Sadanobu II’s prints we can see the shogunate history repackaged in this new Japanese red, which still looks so intense and exceptional after more than 140 years of publication.


These diptych woodblock print books, illustrated by Hasegawa Sadanobu II (with nine internal prints, one of them colored) are in excellent condition: no loose pages, wormholes, dampstains, nor is it sunned; with top-rated preservation, they are rare collectible Edo books.


The First Shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu 德川家康 (1543 – 1616)


With an opening purple Noren curtain featuring the Tokugawa’s kamon, three hollyhock leaves inside a circle, the first print captures the start of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period: Tokugawa Ieyasu 德川家康, the founder, winning the Summer Siege of Osaka 大坂の役 (1615), with his general, Ii Naomasa 井伊直政 (1561-1602), regarded as one of the Four Guardians of the Tokugawa, presenting the head of Kimura Shigenari 木村重成, who fought for Toyotomi 豊臣秀吉. Shigenari was a great warrior: he fought well at the Winter Siege of Osaka (1614) but lost next year in the summer battle. His hair was said to be expertly cut and perfumed with incense, supposing he would be beheaded if he were defeated: here we see his restrained head—so achromatic, as if it were the glaring reflection of an artillery light—in front of Ieyasu, who, despite his vaulting pomposity, seems quite gobsmacked, taken aback by such foreboding preparedness, by a head so neat, so proud!


The Fifteenth Shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu 徳川慶喜 (1837-1913)


Tokugawa Yoshinobu 徳川慶喜 (1837-1913) was the fifteenth and last shogun; after returning the governance to imperial rule in 1867 大政奉還 and surrendering in the Boshin War 戊辰戦争 (1868-1869), also known as the Japanese Revolution, Yoshinobu resigned from politics and lived quietly out of the public eye in Shizuoka 静岡市. Many historians credited him for avoiding a large bloodshed in ending Japanese feudalism and in opening Japan to social and political reforms.





Diptych Ukiyo-e Book, 1880

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