A WONDER OF NATURE: JAPAN’S TRADEMARK VOLCANO
Mount Fuji is the magnificent cone-shaped volcano known on Earth. Not only is it Japan’s highest peak at 3.7 thousand meters, but also a national symbol and cultural icon, particularly when it comes to the world of art. It’s been a training place for samurai and a sacred site for followers of the Shinto religion for thousands of years. In fact, its first ever ascend was by an unnamed monk. It’s one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” alongside Mount Take and Mount Haku.
The mountain lies around 100 kilometres south-west of the capital, Tokyo, and one can see the outlines of its exceptionally symmetrical nature on a clear day. It is still active, although the last eruption happened at the start of the 18th century. One of Japan's “Special Place of Scenic Beauty” and a landmark on the World Heritage List, Mount Fuji is the single most popular tourist site in the whole country, especially for climbers, who often set out to reach the top at night to enjoy the sunrise and its breath-taking panorama.
AN INSPIRATION FOR MASTERPIECES
Mount Fuji has been a frequent subject in Japanese art, especially since the year 1600 when Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) was the ruling city of the Shogun. So the number of travellers who passed along theTōkaidō Road from Kyoto increased. Historically, Mount Fuji was seen as a source of immortality, a belief that can be traced back to “The Tale of the Bamboo cutter”, a story of a goddess who deposited an elixir of eternal life on its peak. This fed the creative imagination of numerous poets, artists and musicians who expressed their adoration of this remarkable landmark by pouring out all their artistic talent onto paper.
Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”
Three extremely popular ukiyo-e series stand out in the public’s minds. One is “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” by the great master of landscapes Katsushika Hokusai. This is his best-known series of prints and includes two of the greatest artworks ever created by an artist internationally: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, “Rainstorm beneath the Summit” and “Fine Wind, Clear Morning”, also known as “Red Fuji”.
“Rainstorm beneath the Summit” – Hokusai, 1821
“Red Fuji” is a very unique piece, which shows a rare phenomenon only seen in exceptionally clear mornings from summer through fall. The combination of southern wind and a clear sky results in the dawning light dying the surface of the mountain red. Thescholar Gian Carlo Calza describes it as:"one of the simplest and at the same time one of the most outstanding of all Japanese prints", and that the series as a whole is Hokusai’s: “indisputable colour print masterpiece.”
Hokusai started what would become the work of his life at the age of 70 and took not just Edo, but the world by storm. As one goes through each individual print, the perspective and emphasis on various elements shifts to create an overall impression of awe. The talented artist depicts the iconic volcano from various different angles, during different seasons. Mostly with an ice cap as the top, as it is covered in snow for about 5 months of the year.
Hiroshige’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji”
Utagawa Hiroshige is another beloved ukiyo-e artists who specialized in creating beautiful landscapes. He shared Hokusai’s obsession with Mount Fuji and created a series of prints with the same title as Hokusai’s, although stylistically unique. Whereas the surrounding people and events are accentuated in Hokusai’s series, Hiroshige places a greater focus on the landmark itself, which is why Mount Fuji appears larger and more realistic in his illustrations. About Hokusai’s series, Hiroshige said: “filled with power of his brush, his work focused upon making things interesting. For instance, he manipulated Fuji as he liked. My work differs. I simply reproduce sketches of what I had seen before my eyes.”
“Mountains of Izo” – Hiroshige, 1858
Hiroshige’s “The Fifty-three Stations of theTōkaidō”
Quite possibly Hiroshige’s most well-known series, “The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō” is inspired by the artist’s first travel along the famous route in 1832 when he joined the shogun’s expedition, to present horses to the Emperor. Tōkaidō was the most important of the 5 Routes in Edo-period Japan as it connected the shogun’s capital, Edo (Tokyo) to the imperial capital, Kyoto. The trip left an incredibly strong impression on Hiroshige, who started working on his series of 55 prints immediately after returning home. The success of those works gained him the status of the most famous ukiyo-e landscape artist.
“Mt. Fuji in the Morning from Hara” – Hiroshige, 1833
Hiroshige relies on his characteristic realism to portray fellow local customs and communities, placing an emphasis on their emotions as well as the seasonal changes of Mount Fuji’s magnificent profile. This series, along with Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,'' revolutionized the ukiyo-e genre by introducing a whole new theme: the landscape print (fūkei-ga). It became hugely popular in Western countries due to the fact Hiroshige took inspiration from the way perspective was represented in the Western part of the globe.
“Yoshiwara: the Famous SIght of Mount Fuji on the Left” – Hiroshige, 1847-52
You can enjoythe full collection of Hokusai’s masterful work dedicated to mount Fuji here as well asmore ofHiroshige’s stunning art works and our collection of incredible ukiyo-e landscapes. Experience the unique atmosphere of Edo Japan with us and bring a piece of that beauty into your home!
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