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Royalty and Rulers

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Chikanobu Yoshu, Japanese, (1838–1912)
Emperor Meiji with Family and Court Ladies: Prince in a Baby Carriage, May 1878
Ink on Paper
13 7/8 in. x 28 3/8 in. (35.24 cm x 72.07 cm)

Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Period: Meiji (Japan, 1869-1912)
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the Aoki Endowment for Japanese Arts and Cultures
Accession Number: 2005.1.11

Alternate Title: Hana no Azuma oji Onagusame no zu

In this triptych, a baby prince, Hana no Azuma, is sitting on a carriage with toy horses. Looking at him are female attendants who are towing the carriage into the palace chamber. Vivid colors, exquisite gowns and ornaments add vitality and splendidness to the print. Despite the lively figure of the baby prince, captured with his clear gaze at the ladies and wide hand gestures, this figure is in fact a surrogate, replacing the prince who died shortly after birth in the previous year. Published in May, this print may seem to represent an imperial ceremony on Boy’s Day, but as indicated by the title, it is a consolation (onagusame) for the dead prince. The emperor in the left corner with a wistful look complicates the festive and bright atmosphere.

Song Han (student, 2016)

Signed: “Chikanobu hitsu” with red toshidama seal

Colored ink woodblock print; oban triptych.

Object Description
The emperor appears at far left dressed in traditional court robes surrounded by his female attendants, some of whom are helping wheel a baby carriage and toy horses into the palace chamber. Being published in May 1878, this seems like a celebration of Boys' Day (5th day of the 5th month) with a young prince in tow. However in that year the emperor had no living children, his first two sons and two daughters having died, and Crown Prince Yoshihito (the future Emperor Taisho) was not yet conceived (born 31 August 1879). The print's title indicates this is an "image of consolation" (onagusame no zu) to remember Prince Hana no Azuma ("Flower of the East") who was born 23rd day of the 9th month of the previous year to Lady Yanagihara Naruko, one of the emperor's concubine, but died shortly thereafter. Thus, the child in the carriage is a surrogate, to bring some small temporary pleasure on this traditional holiday to the emperor, who has a kindly though wistful look. Adding to the fantastic aspects of the scene are blossoming cherry trees (usually not found in May) and full bloom peonies (usually mid-summer). Only the purple-blue iris flowers suspended upside down behind the emperor are appropriate to this month, and a typical ornament for Boys' Day.

Hasegawa Motokichi

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