Throughout premodern Japan, the seas south of Japan were the repository of a host of imaginary islands. Many of these peripheric spaces were associated with an ambivalent category of the feminine, with characteristics ranging from the demonic to the erotic and the paradisiacal. As in other cultures, feminine figures were often located at the interface between the domain of everyday existence and “the otherworld.” By investigating the spatial mechanisms of male fantasies about women, this chapter enables a reconsideration of the social and cultural constructions of gender in the visual culture of premodern Japan. It shows how both visual sources and ideas of femininity were characterized by a semiotic oscillation that determined their shape-shifting configurations. On one hand, they were able to transcend the dominant discourse and disclose suppressed phantasms and anxieties. On the other hand, they could equally reinforce the same dominant discourse. The category of the feminine resisted closure. Women were vehicles of alterity, metaphors of spatial and identitary displacement. The feminine stood in for the Other, the transmogrified self that emerged out of the encounter with alterity.
This chapter investigates the social use of illustrated woodblock prints published for didactic purposes, especially for propagating female virtues during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910). The Chosŏn government promoted Confucian precepts for their reformative power from the foundation of the state, and thus propagated didactic texts illustrating Confucian morality to give practical behavioral guidance. The two most representative examples of such publications are Samgang haengsilto [Illustrated Exemplars of the Three Bonds] first published in 1434 and Oryun haengsilto [Illustrated Exemplars of the Five Relationships] published in 1797. The term samgang in Samgang haengsilto refers to the three Confucian principles that defined the ideal human relationships for all levels of society. The first chapter, “Ch’ungsin,” emphasizes loyalty between ruler and subject; the second chapter, “Hyoja,” represents the relationship between parent and child; and the third chapter, “Yŏllyŏ,” depicts the bond between husband and wife. Oryun haengsilto incorporates samgang but adds two additional relationships, between friends and between the elderly and the young. This chapter will focus on the yŏllyŏ (“eminent women”) sections of these illustrated prints and highlight how Chosŏn male rulers politically indoctrinated a specific ideology of yŏllyŏ into words and images created for women only.
Kristen L. Chiem
In his painting, Lady Holding a Fan in the Autumn Breeze, Fei Danxu (1801–50) pictured the back of a woman in monochrome ink, her face concealed, leaning on a rock under a willow tree. The round fan in her left hand references Lady Ban, or Ban Jieyu (c. 48 bce–c. 6 bce), the erudite and virtuous consort of the Han emperor Cheng Di (r. 32–7 ce). After expressing her enduring devotion to her lord in a poem written on a round fan, Lady Ban became the archetype of the abandoned woman that was rendered in paintings for centuries to follow. Her image initially appealed to women as a virtuous role model, and later to men as a woman longing for love. However, Fei Danxu departed from contemporary pictorial conventions that romanticized the suffering of the abandoned woman. Rather, he used the abandoned woman to point to the challenges of modernity in Jiangnan, one that poised scholarly virtue as a corrective to the perils of material desire and political instability. His image of a solitary beauty under the willow tree emerged from a modern consciousness that reconsidered representations of and by women in painting and poetry.
The 1794 painting of Eguchi no kimi (Lady Eguchi) by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–95) depicts a beautiful woman on an elephant. This seemingly bizarre union was neither peculiar nor singular in its composition, nor was its conception original to Ōkyo. In addition to at least two other paintings of this subject matter by Ōkyo, nearly twenty paintings and woodblock prints of the same theme by other artists survive from Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). The numbers make Eguchi no kimi one of the most popularly copied images in the era, and one of the most frequently repeated parody pictures. The imagery satirizes the Buddhist bodhisattva Fugen, whose iconographic mount is an elephant, by replacing the deity with a beautifully coiffed modern courtesan. Such a visual pun (mitate) was an artistic trope, popular in the Edo period. However, Ōkyo’s Eguchi no kimi departs from the trend. For him, the theme offered a challenge that combines a mundane and mortal woman’s images with a bodhisattva identity. His Eguchi, a sacred agent of entertainment who blurs the boundary between the divine and profane, demonstrates the Buddhist skillful-means teaching (upāya) through visualizing the ideas of delusion and, subsequently, of deterrent from corporeal desire.
Female sponsors funded and oversaw the establishment of Yōgen’in, a Kyoto Zen temple that is a prime case of “matronage” in Japanese art. At Yōgen’in, three elite women conducted memorial services for their illustrious warrior ancestor Asai Nagamasa, who had taken his life in 1573 after failing to repel an attack on his home domain. Yōgen’in’s first sponsor was Nagamasa’s daughter Yododono (1567–1615), consort of the leading warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1594, Yododono ordered the temple’s construction in memory of her father. Soon after its completion Yōgen’in was destroyed in a fire, but another of Nagamasa’s daughters, Oeyo (1573–1626), provided funds for its reconstruction. Oeyo was married to the second Edo shogun Tokugawa Hidetada. Later, Eyo-no-kata’s daughter, the young empress Tōfukumon’in (1607–78), sponsored services at Yōgen’in for her grandparents and parents. Esteemed artists Kano Sanraku and Tawaraya Sōtatsu painted panels and doors for the temple’s interior in about 1623. In the Main Hall of Yōgen’in are Sōtatsu’s paintings of pines and exotic animals, which may be his earliest extant large-scale paintings.
Located in the western suburbs of Beijing, the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony is the only former Qing imperial garden that preserves the glamour of the old days. This paper illuminates Empress Dowager Cixi’s (1835–1908) matronage of architectural space through scrutinizing the reconstruction of this imperial garden. The author examines the strategies of rebuilding the site into a space dedicated to the Empress Dowager and argues that the Empress Dowager turned the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony into an arena of female agency. It was in this garden where Cixi performed her role as a female ruler and matron of art and theater. In addition to regular meetings with officials, she also organized a formal reception for the visiting Prince Henry of Prussia in 1897. As a matron of art, Cixi conducted a series of experiments in photographic and oil portraits here during 1903 and 1904. Ultimately, Cixi’s invitation to the American portrait painter Katharine Carl (1865–1938) opened the imperial domestic space to international public gaze for the first time in Chinese history, as Carl documented, with illustrations, her stay with the Empress Dowager in her well-circulated memoir published in 1905.
Since the 1970s, feminist art historians have extensively critiqued the systematic exclusion of women artists and their works from the canon of Western art history . More recently, attention has been directed towards Asia, where women’s contributions to arts and culture were neglected in a largely comparable manner, including in discourses and exhibitions on premodern Korean material culture. Though an ever-growing book-body of scholarship testifies to the significant role women played as makers, users, and patrons of art in early Korean society, in particular during the Chosŏn kingdom (1392–1910), women’s place in the canon has been treated with ambivalence. This chapter centers on Chosŏn female painters, poets, and needleworkers and explores how their gendered positions and their roles within and outside the home impacted the production and appreciation of their creative outputs during their own time and in present decades. It is argued that women’s place in the canon of Korean art was shaped by pre conceived notions of what art is and how artists should be defined. Thus, the issue lies not so much in the quality of works produced but rather in how such artifacts and their makers have been defined and categorized by twentieth-century art historians.
Na Hye-sŏk (1896–1948) was a feminist writer during Korea’s colonial period, an outspoken advocate of equal rights for women, and Korea’s first woman painter of Western-style painting. As a prolific painter of landscape in oil color, Na produced over three hundred paintings and won several times at the Chosŏn Art Exhibitions. However, after her divorce following an extramarital love affair, this talented and envied “new woman” lost her celebrity, lover, children, and career and died alone in a hospital for vagrants. Both admired and vilified when alive, in the late 1990s Na was rehabilitated by scholars of Korean literature, art history, and women’s studies, and finally by the Korean government itself. This chapter attempts to elucidate this intriguing figure and her recent cultural comeback and finds a woman of remarkable originality, ability, and determination, with a passion for painting and writing that made her an icon in her time. It also shows that the trajectory of Na Hye-sŏk’s life and career was largely determined by the men in her life and by the constraints of public expectations of women. Fifty years after her death, her “re-iconification” arose from a confluence of three forces—influential men, feminism, and politics.
Christina M. Spiker
Open any modern travel guide on Japan and you will likely find mention of Victorian explorer, writer, and naturalist Isabella Lucy Bird (1851–1904). Known for her travels throughout the United States, Australia, and Asia, Bird’s publications and vibrant lecture circuit made her a household name in nineteenth-century Great Britain. Her two-volume work Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is unique in its detailed, subjective account of the customs and manners of the Ainu—the indigenous minority dwelling in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. This essay treats Bird’s travelogue as a visual object to analyze the role of photography and illustration in relation to the text. I argue that by adopting an art historical framework, we gain a unique perspective on Bird’s significant role in constructing the ubiquitous Ainu stereotype by reinforcing prescribed gender roles for Ainu men and women. This chapter examines how photography taken by male photographers living in Japan such as Baron Raimund von Stillfried (1839–1911) were translated into woodcut engravings and then printed in a travelogue written by a woman. This process raises questions regarding gender, medium, and the role of realism in a new transnational economy of Ainu images consumed by Victorian audiences.
Kristen L. Chiem and Lara C. W. Blanchard