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Snake from Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

Tiger from Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Snake from the series

Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

(Seihō gahaku hitsu jūnishi jō)

by Takeuchi Seihō, c. 1900-1915

Boar from Takeuchi Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

IHL Cat. #2293

About This Print and Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

This print, picturing a snake moving through the grass, is from the folding album (orihonSeihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals, published by Unsōdō Publishing, containing twelve prints each picturing an animal in the zodiac.  This image represents the sixth animal in the set sequence of animals symbolizing the houses of the zodiac in Chinese lore, namely the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog and pig.

Each of the prints is essentially a woodblock facsimile of what must have been an original watercolor created by Seihō, a painter rather than a print maker. In describing an earlier book of prints by the artist, also published by Unsōdō Publishing, Jack Hillier notes that the Meiji print-makers responded to the challenge of reproducing Seihō's watercolors, with "marvelous interpretive skills" and goes on to say “There is, in truth, a complete abnegation of the medium qua woodcut; its own virtues of bold line and flat wash are sacrificed in the cause of a facsimile rendering of a water-colour: this was a fundamental change in technique which led to incredible feats of reproduction…”1

The Entire Album - Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat/Sheep, Monkey, Cock, Dog, Pig/Boar

click on image to enlarge
image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art 2013.799
Dates of Publication
It is unclear when the twelve prints were originally issued.  Japan's National Diet Library lists their copy of the "bound book" (和装) as being published in 1900.  The British Museum lists their copy as published circa 1900. The Rijksmuseum lists their copy as being published between 1900 and 1915.2  The Metropolitan Museum of Art lists their copy as being published between 1905 and 1906. Several rare booksellers list their copies as being published between 1910 and 1912.  Unfortunately, neither the museums or the booksellers show the colophon from the book (if one was included), which would allow confirmation of the date of publishing.

In addition to the prints that were bound into folding albums, most, if not all, of the designs were issued at a later date (the Art Institute of Chicago suggests c. 1930s/1940s) as single sheets. These single sheet prints have a wider margin around them which is not present in most of the prints bound into a album and they do not have a centerfold, a result of these large dai-oban size prints being folded over when bound into an album.

Some, if not all, of the designs were printed in 1903 by Unsōdō, with some modifications to the background (see this collection's IHL Cat. 1576 Tiger as an example).  These 1903 prints were likely also issued as part of a folding album, as the examples I've seen all have a horizontal centerfold. The 1903 prints do carry a date of publication in their margin along with the publisher's copyright under the name of Yamada Naozaburō 山田直三郎, the founder of Unsōdō Publishing.  In addition, some, but not all of the twelve prints were re-issued (post-war II, I believe) by Unsōdō in shikishiban (square format).

1 The Art of the Japanese Book, Jack Hillier, Sothebys Publications, London, 1987, p. 991.
2 The Rijksmuseum provides the following description of their copy of the album: "Light brown cover with mid-top white title strip with gold-colored splashes; 13 sheets: first page, title page; 12 prints with the animals of the zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, swine; Last page, colophon. In green cover with white title strip." 

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #2293
 Title or Description Snake
 Series Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals [also seen translated as Seihō’s Album of the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac]
 セイホウ ガハク ヒツ ジュウニシジョウ Seihō gahaku hitsu jūnishi jō
 Takeuchi Seihō (1864-1942)
Seihō 栖鳳
 Seal of Artist Seihō ga in 栖鳳画印
 Publication Date c. 1900-1915
 Edition likely original edition
 Publisher Unsōdō Publishing 
 Carver unknown
 Printer unknown
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition fair -  original vertical album; soiling and toning
 Genre nihonga (also classed as e-hon, as the series prints exist as bound volumes)
 Format dai oban
 H x W Paper 14 5/8 x 20 1/4 in. (37.1 x 51.4 cm )
 H x W Image
 14 5/8 x 20 1/4 in. (37.1 x 51.4 cm )
 Collections This Print  The British Museum has an earlier album of the 12 prints in their collection 1991,1112,0.52 (dated c. 1900) as does the Rijksmuseum RP-P-1993-138 (dated 1910-1915) and the National Diet Library Call Number 418-39 (entire album dated 1900; not shown); Metropolitan Museum of Art 2013.799 (entire album dated ca. 1905-6)
 Reference Literature
last revision:
5/25/2021 created