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"The Forty-Seven Ronin", from the series "The Treasury of Loyal Retainers" by Utagawa Hiroshige. Color woodblock print, ca. 1834-39. Elmira College Art Collection, Gift of Emily Porter St. John; ECA.011.6.16
Students in Dr. Mark Pitner's Spring 2019 course, "Introduction to Museum Studies", studied a collection of woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) that were donated to Elmira College by Emily Porter St. John, who graduated from EC in 1890. The students chose nine prints from the collection to feature in an exhibition which they designed and produced. The exhibition, "Hiroshige: Prince of Woodblock Prints," is currently on view in the lobby of the Gannett-Tripp Library.
Hiroshige was one of the masters of ukiyo-e, a Japanese artistic style that arose in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and depicted the "floating world" of Edo's (now Tokyo's) pleasure districts, as well as scenes from Japanese history and literature. Hiroshige was best known for travel series such as "The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido", but was also famous for his prints of birds, flowers, and landscapes. The production of his color woodblock prints involved not only the artist who designed the image, but also the engraver, the printer, and the publisher. Separate blocks were engraved for each color to be used -- for some prints, up to 20 blocks were used. Fortunately, hundreds or even thousands of prints could be made from one set of blocks, and Japan's increasingly wealthy merchant class was eager to purchase them.
The image above shows a print from Hiroshige's series illustrating scenes from the Kabuki play "Kanadehon Chushingura". In this print, "The Forty-Seven Ronin", the ronin (masterless samurai) are on their way to avenge their leader's death.
A website (https://sites.google.com/elmira.edu/elmiracollegemuseumstudies2019/home) and an online version of the exhibition catalogue (https://issuu.com/elmira76/docs/hiroshige_4) are also available.
The exhibit is free and open to the public, and can be viewed during regular library hours. (For the library's schedule, visit the GTL home page, https://libguides.elmira.edu/home)
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