Height: 285.000 mm
Width: 418.000 mm
Asia JA 1949.11-12.010
Shiba Kōkan, 'Tweelandbruk', a hand-coloured copperplate etching
Edo period, AD 1787
'Bridge between Two Provinces'
Shiba Kōkan (1747-1818) was the first Japanese to produce a copperplate print in 1783, a technique he learnt by studying a manual purchased from Dutch traders in Nagasaki. At this time Chinese and Dutch traders provided the main contact with the world beyond Japan.
Kōkan was a skilled woodblock artist, but he became fascinated by Western approaches to visual representation, and wrote a treatise praising the accuracy and usefulness of Western pictures. Many European topographical prints were entering Japan at the time which he could study.
Here Kōkan presents a native Japanese view of Ryōgoku Bridge over the Sumida River in Edo (modern Tokyo), in which he maximizes the effects of vanishing-point perspective.
Ideally such perspective prints (uki-e) were designed to be seen through a viewing machine known as an 'optique', with a lens and mirror. Because the viewer sees a reflection of the print, the image itself has to be produced in reverse and the restricted vision makes the image seem more vivid. These devices were known in England as 'diagonal viewing machines' or 'zograscopes', and in Japan as Oranda-megane ('Dutch glasses') or nozoki-megane ('peeping glass').
The title, Tweelandbruk, is a literal translation into Dutch (the standard language of foreign studies in Japan at the time) of the bridges name, 'Bridge between Two Provinces' (Ryōgoku-bashi) The inscription tells us that the print was produced in the ninth month of 1787 and that Kōkan etched the plates himself.
L. Smith (ed.), Ukiyo-e images of unknown Japa (London, The British Museum Press, 1988/89)