Re: Harunobu & Escher

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Posted by John Fiorillo on February 01, 2003 at 09:36:13:

In Reply to: Harunobu & Escher posted by Gerald Schmieder on February 01, 2003 at 01:02:16:

You raise a very interesting topic, but I find I do not agree with your interpretation of the scene in Harunobu's print.

First, I doubt very much that Harunobu would have ever intended the treatment of architectural elements in his compositions, or in this case, the framing around the curtain, to be amusing or challenging in the same sense as Esher did his image of the "Belvedere," or his presentations of "impossible" objects. Actually, in terms of how we in the West understand the illusion of three-dimensional perspective as depicted in two-dimensional space (e.g., drawings, paintings, prints), and in particular the acceptance of a single vanishing point to achieve this, Harunobu and almost every other ukiyo-e artist, great or small, had only an imperfect understanding of Western perspective. Ukiyo-e examples can be found in the thousands with unsuccessful attempts at three-dimensionality or the single vanishing point. In this sense the genre is littered with "mistakes" of this kind. Ukiyo-e painting traditions were different from ours and so were their artistic concerns.

Regardless, in the Harunobu design you mention, I also believe you have misread the scene. The cross beam above the hanging tassels (or "curtain") is meant to be a continuation of the support beam of the balcony above, not the door frame. The lower part, which is placed at approximately a right angle to the beam above, is, however, part of the door frame (see picture detail with arrows). In other words, the tassels hang from above the level of the balcony beam and thus are not entirely visible (nor is the top part of the door frame from which they hang). I admit that this requires accepting a challengingly imperfect perspective or depth of field in the relationship between the shoji screen (with the shadow figures behind it) and the point (unseen) where that screen might finally meet the underside of the balcony (probably somewhere near the middle of the visible part of the upper balcony). But there it is, another example of imperfectly realized perspective in Japanese printmaking.


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