Re: to 'no zu' or not to 'no zu'

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Posted by Kurt ( on November 10, 2015 at 13:51:59:

In Reply to: to 'no zu' or not to 'no zu' posted by Kurt on November 06, 2015 at 14:22:27:

Thanks Guy and Noel for your replies…

The translation (or lack) of the ‘no zu’ has certainly come as a surprise and been a frustration the more I’ve looked into prints (or purchased some) as of late. This is especially so when you are wanting to cite a work from a museum’s collection and you know the title is incomplete: it’s not as if you can change their title when you reference it; the title has to link up with their collection accession number.

Beyond this, and though I lay no claim to being a competent translator (indeed, I am a novice, only looking at ukiyo-e prints since mid year thereabouts, and don’t have any Japanese language skills) I am surprised at the poor translations that abound. I recognize that there is a lot of flexibility translating a title into English, what with your ‘the’, ‘at’, ‘from’, ‘of’ etc. needing to be filled in… it seems inevitable that two titles will differ a little as a result of this. I also recognize that some synonyms might be used in preference to others. But it is the omittance of words (like ‘no zu’, picture of) and the inclusion of words that aren’t even in the title that has caused me the most bewilderment.

A few examples:
I purchased a Sadahide triptych ‘The Battle of Tsukushi from the Taiheiki’ a few months ago, but it wasn’t until last week that I looked at the title cartouche properly
to find that there was a ‘[no] zu’ there, but also a kanji 前 that could be read as ‘mae’ or ‘zen’… so the title became ‘Zen Taiheiki Tsukushi kassen [no] zu’, a ‘Picture of the Battle of Tsukushi from the Earlier Taiheiki’ (or thereabouts, given you might use ‘Former Taiheiki’ or ‘Earlier Taiheiki). Interestingly, a Christie’s auction from a few years back had the work listed as ‘Zen Taiheiki Tsukushi kassen no zu’ but then had it translated in English without reference to the ‘Earlier Taiheiki’.

Another Sadahide triptych came to me as ‘The Battle of Kawanakajima’ though there was no title cartouche. On investigation, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston has four panels (including the three forming this triptych) listed as part of a larger hexaptych with the name: ‘The Two Armies Confront Each Other at Kawanakajima’ 甲越両軍対峙之図. Assuming the title of the hexaptych is found on one of the two panels that are not in the MFA collection, and that the kanji
are transcribed correctly, then the title makes no specific reference to Kawanakajima (as the MFA suggests it does) even though it is the subject of the print. The title might be more appropriately (though not definitively) translated as ‘Picture of the Kai and Echigo Armies Confronting Each Other’ (Kōetsu ryōgun taiji no zu).

I fumbled through a translation process using google translate (however embarrassing that may be to say): Kai 甲, Echigo 越, Kōetsu 甲越, ‘both’ ryō 両, ‘army’ gun 軍, ‘confronting’ taiji 対峙, (軍対峙 ‘military confrontation’, 両軍対峙 ‘both armies confronting’), ‘picture of’ no zu 之圖
Kōetsu ryōgun taiji no zu.

The ‘History of the Ups and Downs of the Minamoto and Taira: The Attack on the Yamaki Palace’ was another work, titled in the catalogue raisonné of Kuniyoshi . When I looked at the kanji characters (direct off the print) I read them
源平盛衰記 伊豆国山大合戰
‘Genpei seisuiki: Izu-no kuni Yamaki kassen’.

Though it is true you might substitute ‘chronicle' for ‘record’ or ‘history', and 'rise and fall' instead of 'ups and downs’, at the very least, how can you

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