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Illustration of Noble's Imperial Ceremony

Prosperity of the World and Fashion of the East

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Illustration of Noble's Imperial Ceremony

by Watanabe Nobukazu, 1900

Picture of Wedding Ceremony of Noble Couple

IHL Cat. #1100

About This Print

Published on March 27, 1900, six weeks before the wedding ceremony of twenty-one year old Crown Prince Yoshihito to sixteen year old Kujō Sadako, daughter of Duke Michitaka Kujō, head of Kujō branch of the Fujiwara clan, this triptych portrays an unnamed ceremony being conducted at the Imperial Palace with the crown prince, his bride to be, the emperor and empress and military officials in attendance.  Three court ladies are seated before the crown prince.

As discussed in more detail below, a few days earlier on March 23, the frail prince had undergone a medical examination to determine his fitness for marriage, which he passed with some reservation, one of the doctor's noting that the prince "has not by a long way regained the weight of last year."1  In this print the crown prince looks hail and hardy, which is not surprising.

From the time of the decision of the prince's marriage on August 21, 1899 to the marriage ceremony itself on May 10, 1900 , a series of newly fabricated events, including the marriage ceremony itself, had been instituted by the newly formed Imperial Institutions Investigatory Bureau (teishitsu seido chōsa kyoku), which was tasked with studying European monarchy practices in order to "create a modern monarchy that they believed would represent a level of civility equal to that of the West..."2

Silver and black lacquer-like highlights abound throughout the print.

Note: Also see Imperial Prosperity: Ceremony in the Eastern Capital and Picture of Wedding Ceremony of Noble Couple. 

The Historical Context of the Print

Source: website of the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/exhibitions/divine-inspiration/miller-noble.shtml

The year Meiji 33 was important for the Japanese Imperial Family, as it marked the wedding ceremony of the Meiji Emperor’s son and successor, Crown Prince Yoshihito. The wedding took place on the 10th day of the 5th month, but prior to the ceremony, many smaller formal events took place. As documented in Donald Keene’s 2002 biography of the sovereign, Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, on March 23, the date of this print, the crown prince underwent health examinations to insure his physical health was strong enough for marriage. Yoshihito endured serious illness only five years earlier, and experienced a difficult recovery. His doctors and the court entourage determined on March 23 that he was indeed fit for marriage, and this print may be related to this decision. The marriage and expectation of subsequent children was important to carrying on the unbroken imperial lineage, which many traced to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and as such the event may have called for a ritual marking the preparation for the passage of both religious and political rule to the crown prince. Various court ceremonies, such as the one that this image presents, were newly fabricated during the Meiji period, and their public display was an innovation of the modern era. As the state attempted to gain the support of the populace, court rites and rituals, as well as publicly distributed images and descriptions of them, were intended to arouse national pride, unity, and a loyalty to the crown. In addition to court images, bunmei kaika-e, or “pictures of civilization and enlightenment,” presented modern brick buildings, iron bridges, and newly constructed railroads as evidence of a successful government and theocracy. All of this imagery worked in tandem to fashion an image of nationalism under the watchful and protective eye of the emperor. 

A Variant Printing

The publisher created at least one other impression of this print with a slightly different color scheme, as shown below.

1 Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, 2002, p. 553.
2 Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan, T. Fujitani, University of California Press, 1998, p. 118.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title Illustration of Noble’s Imperial Ceremony [Illustration of Grand Ceremony of Accession of a High Rank]
高位御大禮之図 Kōi godairei no zu

 Artist Watanabe Nobukazu (1872-1944)

応需 延一
ōju Nobukazu ga
 Seal Yōsai 楊斎 (see above)
 Publication Date 1900 March 27
Ishii Rokunosuke 石井六乃助 [Marks: pub. ref. 160; seal not shown]
reading from right to left:
[Meiji 33 3rd month 24th day printed]
[Meiji 33 3rd month 27th day published]
[publisher's address]
印刷兼 発行者 石井六乃助
[printed and published Ishii Rolunosuke]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - full size separate sheets, unbacked, minor wrinkling on right panel; minor damage repair verso
 Genre ukiyo-e; kaika-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper 
 14 11/16 x 9 3/4 in. (37.3 x 24.8 cm) each panel
 H x W Image 14 5/16 x 9 1/2 in. (36.4 x 24.1 cm) each panel

 Collections This Print
 Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas 2002.0205 a,b,c
last revision: