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Kawahara Keiga (1786-c.1860) or studio The Fumi-e ceremony (picture treading, 1820-1830)

Kawahara Keiga (1786-c.1860) or studio

The Fumi-e ceremony (picture treading, 1820-1830)

Watercolour on silk, H. 29 x W. 37.5 cm

The Stauffer family of Akron, Cleveland, Ohio, USA (according to a label to the back)

Fumi-e depicted

The man in the centre is stepping on the fumi-e with a barefoot, in front of three officials. The highest official, Nichigyoji, sitting in front of a sliding door, fusuma, with cranes and young pine trees, symbols of long life. On the screen, tsuitate, on the right is written in large characters the word ‘bamboo’ and ‘green bamboo is lively.’ This probably is a text by a famous Chinese Confucian scholar saying “If you look at the banks of the Wei River, you will see green bamboos growing lush and thick with vitality. Like the beautiful and powerful bamboo, there is a sovereign who is resolute and intelligent”. Everybody is dressed for the occasion, most with family arms, kamon, on their coats. In the front rice bales and New Year decoration with a lobster on top.

From the fourth day of the New Year officials of the bakufu went from house to house where the family had to step on the fumi-e, starting with the head of the household. His wife, wearing a stylish haori (coat) with a pattern reminiscent of the Genji-tale, is seated on the right, awaiting her turn, as is the eldest son wearing a haori, and the younger son. The two figures in the foreground on the right wearing tabi (socks) and setta (sandals) probably are the town’s caretakers.

History of Fumi-e

Fumi-e ceremonies (het beeldtrappen or icon-treading) started in about 1629 and since then were annually conducted in several provinces in Kyũshũ at the start of the New Year when all Japanese in these provinces were forced to step on Christian devotional images to affirm they were not believers of the Christian faith. Those who refused were questioned and severely persecuted. Fumi-e is a brass relief tablet, cast in the Nagasaki foundry, depicting the Crucifix or the Virgin. The Tokyo National Museum probably has all remaining casts.

For the non-Christian Japanese, it was just another element of the New Year, but for Christians, it must have been an annually recurring horror. To counteract this act of blasphemy the ‘hidden’ Christians appear to have performed the ritual of burning the straw sandals worn during the ceremony, mixing the ashes with water and drinking the solution. The Dutch on Deshima also were forced to perform the fumi-e ceremony and they did so, to the disbelief of other Christian nations in Europe. However, the VOC sent their employees to Japan as traders, not as missionaries.

The first plaques used in the fumi-e ceremony were imported from Europe, but soon the Japanese authorities needed many plaques and sturdy bronze plaques with Christian images were ordered from Japanese metal smiths. The designs were based on European plaques, but the original meanings and functions were completely inverted attacking the Christian faith instead of being a devotional image.

Other copies

Three other documented copies of the fumi-e ceremony by Kawahara Keiga or his studio are known, all three in the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden; one on paper with Keiga’s mark, from the collection of Johan van Overmeer Fisscher (inv. no. 360- 4302), one on silk probably studio Keiga, collected by Von Siebold (inv. no. 1-4480-7), and one ink on paper also studio Keiga, in the Siebold collection. All three with minor differences mainly in the depictions and calligraphy on the screens in the background.

Kawahara Keiga or Studio?

Kawahara Keiga was appointed ‘painter allowed to go in and out of Deshima’ in 1823 but had already been working for the Dutch since about 1809 for Jan Cock Blomhoff, Opperhoofd till 1823 and his secretary Johan Frederik van Overmeer Fischer. From 1823 to about 1842 he worked for the scientist Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold.

Oka Yasumasa, the curator of the Kobe City Museum, believes that this work could only have been painted by Keiga himself and not by his workshop because of the splendour of the calligraphy in Gachu Sho (literature in painting), the expression of the figures and the soft shadows on the tatami mats.

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