The craft groups and lumberyards in this second part of the Japanese woodworking festival cover a period of about 400 years. The occupations of craftspeople at work were painted on screens for castles and temples, carved on woodblocks that were bound into books, or sold as individual prints. The audience for the screens and books were the upper classes of society. Often, for the amusement of the readers, books featured “poetry contests” between craftspeople on opposing pages. These are similar to painted scenes of peasants going about their daily lives in seasonal calendars found in European medieval prayer books and manuscripts.
Some of the images are, like the one above, from works designated as national treasures or important cultural properties. In the last few years many have become available in higher resolutions and, especially the highly-detailed painted screens, are just plain fun to study.
Similar to western societies, entire families were engaged in making goods for sale. Multiple generations commonly lived and worked in small two-room homes. The front room faced the street and was used to display and sell goods and as a workspace. The back room and small courtyard was the living space and also where much of the goods were made.
In his comments for this image Kaemmerer noted the blades and saws hanging at the shop front, small items in a box near the toolmaker and a display at the shop front that might be nails.
In this second image there is bit more detail and a with more detail and a better view of the forge used to heat the metal in a small shop. Below is a toolmaker with a much bigger operation.
In the same book by artist Hasegawa Mitsunobu a crew is crafting heavy tools for use in a quarry. A much larger forge is needed for this operation with a dedicated “forge man.”
Several years ago I sent the top-left image (15th century) to Wilbur Pan. In his comments on his blog he noted there was no Japanese plane, but there was a yari-kanna, or spear plane, and this is possibly an indication of when the planes used today came into use. The image at top-right, with unknown artist and source, is notable for the tattoos on the carpenter in the foreground and nice curly wood shavings. It is just possible the plank acting as his workbench is a sake barrel.
The busy scene above (except for the guy in the back taking a nap) may be at the carpenter’s workshop with prep work underway or it may the building site. In the background is a drawing of the building plan, something not seen very often in these illustrations. One of the tools near the seated master is the yari-kanna, or spear plane. Other things to note are the tool box in front of the building plan and lunch has arrived.
A very pristine building site of what may be, considering the size of beams, a warehouse. Seated at the corner of the building is the very important sharpener, because as we all know, sharp fixes everything.
The illustration at the top probably shows three generations of the turner’s family and emphasizes the family nature of the business. You can also see how stakes are used to stabilize the lather. The image of the lathe and stand is from the Kinmo-zu-i (Enlightening Illustrations), Japan’s first illustrated dictionary. The dictionary is comprised of 14 volumes of woodblock illustrations with written descriptions.
Working as the power for the turning lathe was an exhausting job as emphasized by these two images. On left, the worker stops and gasps for breath. On the right, his counterpart strains to keep the lathe turning. Also note the large brace employed to work on a larger container.
Some things don’t change much over a period of 200 years: the tools are the same, the body is used as a work-holding device and the wheels are made the same way (except on the bottom-right – is that felly being held in place by magic?).
I’ve often wondered if Hokusai made that barrel extra large just to frame Mount Fuji.
Like the image from Eric Kaemmerer’s book, we get a good sense of how the family was involved in making goods for sale and how the living space was dominated by the workshop.
Back in 2016 (when we were all so much younger) I wrote a piece on Japanese and Estonian cooperage and included information and video of a Japanese company still engaged in making barrels. If you would like to read it you can find it here.
The Cypress Woodcrafters (himono-ya)
Working with hinoki, these craftsmen are making round containers, sanbo (a small stand for offerings in Shinto temples), trays, small tables and stands. After splitting thin sheets of wood, the wood is scored and bent into place. A clamp holds the piece together until it can be stitched together. In the large image the master uses a yari-kanna to smooth the wood and the worker on the right is bending (with the aid of his mouth) a sheet into a round shape. The worker in the foreground has a clamp in place as he stitches the wood together. Two sanbo are stacked to the right of the master and in the background supplies are stacked. The screen paintings from the Kita-in Temple are true treasures in depicting how artisans worked.
The Shamisen Maker
Many Lost Art Press readers make and play musical instruments, even banjos (hello, Mattias). So, I have included the shamisen in this post.
While the craftsmen on the right work on smoothing the neck of a shamisen, the guy on the left trudges home looking like the girls said “no way” or he got kicked out the band. The screens painted by Iwasa Matabei have so many interesting scenes and I couldn’t resist including him.
Although this is one of those staged photos taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it does give us a glimpse at how the shamisen is made. The drum is covered by an animal skin (formerly of an animal usually viewed as a pet) which the maker appears to be applying in this photo.
The woman on the left tunes the shamisen; the woman on the right plucks the three strings with a baci, a type of plectrum, cousin to the guitar pick.
The Comb Maker
Fans, umbrellas, sandals, small boxes and combs are just some of the many personal items that were, and continue to be, made of wood. I chose combs because they are a practical item used by women and men and are also an ornamental item.
The kanban, or shop sign, makes it to easy find this comb maker. Comb making requires the skill to make precision cuts, both for blanks and to cut teeth that are evenly spaced. An ornamental comb, or kushi, required a high level of skill and refinement with finishing and decoration completed by a lacquer artist.
There are many painters in the books illustrating craftspeople at work, but I could not find one that was definitely a lacquer artist. However, we do have an illustration of Japanese sumac trees, urushinoki, being tapped for sap to make lacquer, or urushi.
Hara Yoyusai used the maki-e technique of sprinkling gold onto a lacquered surface before it hardened. This raises the design elements and provides texture. The comb on the bottom is gold and the fireflies are black. Note how the painted design extends over the teeth of the comb. The comb at the top has been repaired, a common practice, because there is still beauty in broken things.
Only one image of this craft and it calls for alteration: boatwrights building a big boat.
Bringing Lumber to Market and the Lumberyards
Trees are cut, trimmed and start the float down river to lumber merchants and their yards. These are scenes not usually found in the books featuring town-based craftsmen.
The three craftsmen at the very top of this post need only walk a short distance down their street and into the next panel of their screen to find a lumber merchant. The merchant probably received his supply via boat on the nearby river.
The 1657 Great Fire of Meireki was a conflagration that destroyed over 60% of Edo (Tokyo)and caused the deaths of over 100,000. After the fire lumbar yards were moved east of the Sumida river and further from the city. Thanks to the well-known 19th-century woodblock artists, Hokusai and Hiroshige we have two views of Tokyo’s Fukagawa-kiba lumberyard.
The lumberyard was its own city with a maze of canals, bridges and warehouses.
The lumberyards grew as more land was reclaimed.
In the early 1970s the lumberyards were moved further away to reclaimed land. The old lumber yard is now Kiba Park, the newer yards are Shin-kiba.
To bring the Japanese Woodworking Matsuri to an end I will leave you with a link to high-resolution images of the two screens of “Scenes in and Around Kyoto” (Funaki edition) painted around 1615 by Iwasa Matabei (Collection of Tokyo National Museum, National Treasure of Japan).
You can find the link here. Each screen is made of six panels. When you open the link click on the highest resolution. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see two links, one for each screen.
Your challenge is to find this pumpkin-panted Portuguese visitor:
We start our matsuri, or festival, with work commissioned by Philip Franz von Siebold, German physician and botantist. In 1823, under the auspices of the Dutch East Indies Company he was posted to Dejima, an artificial island and trading post off the coast of Nagasaki. For over 200 years, first for the Portuguese and later for the Dutch, Dejima was the conduit for trade with Japan during the isolationist Edo period (1600-1869).
Siebold collected a vast number of plants that were later taken to Leiden. He taught western medical practices and he, along with others, documented Japanese flora, fauna, customs and culture. Siebold quickly began the multi-volume “Archiv zur Beschreibung Nippons” (Archive for Describing Japan). The archive included this illustration of tools:
Siebold was allowed to hire artist Kawahara Keiga (1786-1860?) to further their documentation efforts. Kawahara was taught western painting techniques by Carl Hubert de Villeneuve. He painted harbor scenes, plants, animals and all manner of things. His artwork included the hand tools used by Japanese craftsmen.
Kawahara painted on paper, wood and silk. An archive of his work is held by the Netherlands National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde Leiden). Below is a gallery of Japanese hand tools painted on silk by Kawahara. At the end of the gallery are three illustrations by other artists, each of which has been used in previous blog posts (now they are all together!). After the gallery is a link to use if you would like to see several more paintings of tools, boats, sea life and more.
The link will take you to a Search Page. If it comes up in Dutch you can select your alternate language at the top right of the page. In the Search Box enter Kawahara Keigo and press Search. Use the Green Arrows on the right to advance to Page 11. Kawahara’s work is found on Pages 11 to 51.
Kawahara’s cats! After all, this is the Lost Art Press and Cats blog.
Michael Rimmer’s book about the angel roofs in East Anglia led me to take a closer look at the many carved wood angels to found in houses of worship. I narrowed a very large field of heavenly hosts to three that were made between 1450 and 1540: one plump, one commanding and one broken. All are small carvings made by highly-skilled craftsmen whose names we will never know. (Note: no stone angels. Thank you very much, Dr. Who.)
The Plump Messengers in a National Treasure
In the Marwood Church of St. Michael in Devon, England there is a 16th-century rood screen. The screen is a riot of carved foliage and fantastic figures of demons and spirits. The construction follows the classic form of canapy, vaulting, supporting columns, carved lower section (dado) and elaborate footings. The screen is dated 1535-1540 and was given to the church by Reverend Sir John Beauple. In the mid-19th century the screen was destroyed by the church’s vicar and only one portion was saved.
Just where the ribs of each vault descend and gather to meet the capital of the column there stands a small plump angel.
Unlike the other carved figures on the screen, the four angels, each holding a tablet, appear to be stoic and almost static. They seem to be an anomaly, but they are not. They are right where they should be between the vertical supporting column and arched vault. Just as arches in church buildings draw our eye upwards, so too, do the vaults in a rood screen. The angels help direct our eyes and thoughts heaven-ward.
The wood carvers did not neglect these plump little angels. They gave them fabulous and flowing hair.
An Archangel Appears
The Saluzzo Altarpiece is dated 1500-1510 and was possibly made in the Borman workshop in Brussels (the workshop origin is disputed). The carved side shows the life of Mary, the reverse is painted and depicts the life of Joseph. The painting was done by Valentine van Orley. The altarpiece was made for the Pensa di Mondovi family in Saluzzo Italy. The altarpiece returned to Brussels late in the 19th century.
In the mid-15th century, tableaux within altarpieces were often carved from one block of walnut. By the end of the century construction of altarpieces became more complex and the Saluzzo altarpiece is a prime example. Each scene usually has several figures, they gesture and the faces are animated. The backgrounds are complex with furniture, drapery and architectural elements. Textures are added to add dimension and richness. Figures were carved individually from quarter-sawn oak and made to exact measurements in order to fit together in their respective scenes. When new, the checkered floors between the figures would appear to be seamless. Now, after 500 years, we can see gaps between the figures.
The following is a description of how the figures were made. It is from “Late Medieval German Sculpture: Materials and Techniques” by Julien Chapuis, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“A standing figure was typically cut from a halved section of a tree trunk, clamped horizontally in an adjustable workbench that allowed the block to be rotated. Working from this angle, the sculptor was able to envision the figure in strong foreshortening, much as the viewer would when the finished work was installed above eye level; thus the sculptor could compensate for visual distortions by adjusting proportions and modeling. After marking the contours of the figure on the block with calipers and compasses, he roughed out the form with a variety of tools: two types of axes, curved and straight adzes used in an overhand chopping motion, broad chisels, and mallets. The deeper recesses were created with augers and hand-cranked borers. Various chisels and gouges were used for the elaboration of forms, working from the highest point to the deepest. Certain parts of a figure, such as hands, attributes, and protruding folds of drapery, were carved separately and attached to the figure with dowels. The backs of figures were normally hollowed out to prevent the wood from cracking as it aged. The carvings were meticulously finished with knives and scrapers, exploiting the contrast between broad, smooth areas and incisive details. Last, decorative patterns were either appliquéd or cut or pressed into the surface with punches. Before a figure left the sculptor’s workshop, the eyes and lips were often tinted.”
The photo on the left is an example of how dowels were used to attach hands. On the right is the hollowed-out back of the figure. The drapery piece on the left may have been separately carved and attached, or may just be cracked.
Guild laws in Brussels regulated how each component of the altarpiece was to be marked to ensure both quality and place of origin. The hutch maker (a medieval term for a cabinetmaker that crafted altarpieces among other things) marked the altarpiece case and other elements with a compass and plane. Carved figures were marked with a mallet. The polychromy was punched with “BREUSEL” in the gilding. All of these marks have been found on the Saluzzo altarpiece during restorations and cleanings.
Thanks to a Getty Institute publication, “The Conservation of Medieval Polychrome Wood Sculpture” by Michele D. Marincola and Lucretia Kargère, we have photographs of the maker marks from two altarpieces made in Brussels.
The Annunciation is one of the most repeated themes in religious art and the Saluzzo altarpiece has an outstanding depiction. I think of it as the “action panel.”
The carver of the Archangel Gabriel had the task of capturing both the moment and movement as the angel arrives in Mary’s chamber. Gabriel’s wings are still aloft, his mantle and gown swirl around him and his hair flows back from his face. He begins to speak his message as represented by the ribbon he holds. Mary, kneeling at her prie-dieu, turns to face Gabriel.
Layers of white ground (chalk and animal glue) are applied to the wood sculpures prior to the application of polychrome and gilding. Gabriel was given finely arched brows, his eye lids painted to give them depth and his cheeks have a delicate blush. His mantle is enriched with brocade pressed into the gilding. Gabriel’s beauty and the power of his arrival dominate this panel of the altarpiece. His presence emphasizes the immense importance of the message he carried to Mary.
The Lone Gitternist
Angels were often shown playing musical instruments, either alone or in groups. Unfortunately, as with choir stalls, misericords, rood screens and other church fittings, the groups were often broken up.
This angel plays a gittern, a forerunner of the guitar. The face is captivating with rounded cheeks, a faraway look and a crown of wild curls.
He has the posture of a musician, focused on his performance. Sadly, the other musicians are missing, but not due to creative differences causing a rift between members. Sculptures with multiple figures, as this probably was, were sawed apart and sold to collectors.
This angel has such a strong presence that it is surprisingly just how small it is. The dimensions are only 16-1/8 x 15-13/16 x 3-3/8 inches (41 x 40.1 x 8.5 cm).
Alone, forever separated from his group, he can play power solos to his heart’s content.
Rock on, angel.
In the gallery below are a few more photos of the rood screen including the canopy and vaults; photos of the Saluzzo Altarpiece closed, the painted side (with the Joseph Cycle) and a screen shot of a video when the altarpiece was being dusted – it shows the immense size of the altarpiece.
Have you ever worked with someone who, despite being given detailed instructions, never gets the job done right? (Don’t answer that if you work by yourself.) The end of another workweek is a good time to meet, or be reintroduced to, Eulenspiegel. He has a five-hundred year history in European literature with his exploits translated into multiple languages. His first name is variously Dyl, Til or Thyll. His surname might be shown as Ulenspiegel and in English he is Owlglass or Howlglass. His stories have been studied by historians and humorists as they provide another level of detail about 16th-century life and society.
Eulenspiegel Who? Till Eulenspiegel was a fictional character in a series of tales were written in Low German and published in the first decade of the 16th century. His stories take place in the 14th century with his birth in 1300 and death in 1350. Although he travels elsewhere, much of his story takes place in Northern Germany. Eulenspiegel means owl mirror and he is depicted with both an owl and a mirror on the covers of his books. He is a wily rogue and through his antics he exposes hypocrisy, greed and foolishness in all he meets. He spares neither the aristocrat nor the common man.
The humor in Eulenspiegel’s exploits is how he carries out the exact commands given to him, no more, no less. Those who employ him make assumptions, react favorably to his assurances and later feel the consequences of their readiness to hire this unknown person. The owl and mirror, symbols of wisdom and reflection, are much lacking in those you are unfortunate enough to meet Eulenspiegel.
The tales of Eulenspiegel are bawdy and earthy (not to mention inordinate quantities of excrement) as was typical of 16th-century humor. If you have read editions published in the latter half of the 19th century and in the 20th century the indelicate bits have been taken out.Although some of you will be disappointed, there were no indelicate bits that needed to be excised to present the tale of Eulenspiegel and the Carpenter.
How Eulenspiegel Became a Carpenter in Dresden and Failed to Win Much Praise
Eulenspiegel came into Dresden, near the Bohemian forest, upon the Elbe River and declared himself a carpenter. It so happened, to his good fortune, that a master carpenter in the town heard of this, and lacking his own journeyman due to Blue Monday, hired Eulenspiegel to be his journeyman.
The master was to attend his cousin’s wedding that afternoon and was pressed for time to have a job completed. He told Eulenspiegel of the wedding and instructed his new journeyman to work diligently and glue four boards together for a table. Eulenspiegel asked to be shown the boards. The master took the four boards and stacked them together on the bench. Satisfied his new journeyman knew what was need, the master informed Eulenspiegel he would return late in the evening and departed for the wedding. Eulenspiegel got to work.
He bored holes in each of the boards and stacked them together, one atop the other. The glue pot was put on the fire to heat and when it was ready he poured and brushed the glue to bind all the boards together. He then carried the boards to the roof so the glue would dry in the sunshine.
When his work was done Eulenspiegel make it an early night and went to bed. The master and his wife returned late in the evening, both tipsy and a bit befuddled. He roused Eulenspiegel to ask about the day’s work and was assured that all was done exactly as requested. The master was pleased to have found a good worker and remarked to his wife that one does not find such a good fellow every day.
Early the next morning the master bade Eulenspiegel to show him the table top that had been glued together the previous day. When the master saw how Eulenspiegel had ruined the boards meant for a table, he was enraged and demanded to know where Eulenspiegel had learned the art of carpentry. Eulenspiegel was confused to be asked such a question and said as much. The master shouted that Eulenspiegel had spoiled costly wood. Moved by the master’s anger and shouting, Eulenspiegel responded he had only done that which was commanded and if the wood was ruined it was the master’s fault not his. Grabbing his iron square, the master shouted to Eulenspiegel to be gone his workshop, for of the work that was done he would have no profit. Thus, Eulenspiegel departed with very little praise for his work.
The last few tales of Eulenspiegel’s life relate his death and burial in 1350. His burial was a very appropriate ending for such a waggish character. As the story goes, a hollowed-out tree was used as his coffin (or perhaps a regular wooden coffin). Two ropes, one at each end, were used to lower the coffin. Unfortunately, the lower rope broke and the coffin was stuck standing upright. Those attending the funeral decided to let his coffin remain as it was as it seemed a fitting burial for Eulenspiegel. His tombstone was sculpted with an owl holding a mirror in its talons.
There are many notable people from human history whose burial sites are unknown, but there is no doubt about where Eulenspiegel’s fictional remains are buried. As a measure of his beloved status there is tombstone that still stands (or pretends to stand) in Mölln, Germany.
If you are a newer reader of the LAP blog and puzzled by Blue Monday (or are an old hand and want to relive your youthful hangover days) you can read a post I wrote about Blue Mondays here.