Friday, 14 March 2008

'Winter scene in Hamamatsu' -Hiroshige


Another deceptively simple scene from Hiroshige's 'Tokaido' series featured here this week.  You see, this is one reason I like Hiroshige's work.: He doesn't do what to us would seem the obvious thing with his scenes.

In this print he depicts our travellers in Hamamatsu. Hamamatsu's most famous attribute was its castle, and any contemporary viewer of this work would expect to see it featured prominently; the castle is shown, but hardly in the foreground: the foreground instead shows our travellers warming themselves by a bonfire in the shelter of a large tree, and through several unusual compositional devices -- some of which, such as cutting the page in half with a tree trunk and leaving empty space at the corners, violate all the canons of traditional western art -- our eye is led out from the travellers to the background in which the castle is seen.  The lower sheltering bank unifies the composition, and its curve comes out to embrace the scene and the travellers.

The view seen here reflects several similar 'Shakkei' techniques used to link Japanese houses and gardens to wider views beyond -- 'capturing the view alive'  is the aim -- one of which is to 'capture with tree trunks,' and another to capture with elements linking foreground and background.

Open the drawing up to its largest size letting your eye roam around the page taking it all in, and then let yourself become aware of where and how Hiroshige makes your eye dance around the page.  It's quite delightful how he does it...

PS: Here's a page of gorgeous Hiroshige prints that you can download and view as large files.  Head over and browse for a while.


  1. I must have missed this entry when previously viewing your site Peter; Thank you! This instance is almost like an inversion of the traditional application of 'shakkei', where the 'borrowed scene' typically sits in the background eg. a mountain off in the distance.

    On a cultural note, the existence of 'Shakkei' can also be seen in the behaviour of the Japanese through the concepts of 'kishoutenketsu' (logical development) and 'nemawashi' (laying the groundwork), wherein developing and maintaining the broader context of a target discussion is supposed to take priority. Very evident in business presentations where the speaker appears to ramble on eternally about apparent peripherals but goes on to form a swift conclusion.

  2. You make a fascinating point. In fact,you make two very good fascinating points.

    Thanks you. :-)


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