Hiroshige: 100 Famous Views of Edo by Melanie Trede

Hiroshige, 100 Views of EdoHiroshige, 100 Views of Edo by Melanie Trede

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been leisurely perusing this book on Sunday mornings when we get up and sit on the back porch with our coffee and the dogs running crazily after squirrels and mockingbirds. (Those of you with little ones, this time will come again for you, do not despair.)

This was a Christmas gift from my husband who knows of my fondness for looking at art on those Sunday mornings. Obviously, I haven’t been always examining it on the back porch or even on every Sunday. Do not judge it by my leisurely pace. I’d find it hard to believe that you could find a better book about Hiroshige’s famous series of woodblock prints.

The way the shadows are elongated and distorted
gives the impression we are really seeing
moonlit playgoers in the puppet district

Author Melanie Trede first puts Hiroshige in context by explaining that these types of series were common as travel guides. You’d get the latest series and admire the artistry while planning your next trip. Her explanations of the influences traded between Western and Japanese art, the constraints of the woodblock printing process, the Japanese government’s censorship and other such information put me not only in the mood to better appreciate each piece, but put me mentally in that time and place. I especially loved little details such as the fact that a crane’s feathers would be colorless but have a 3-D texture applied by the printer using his elbow to push the paper into hollowed out areas.

Think how this crane would have seemed to soar
into your room with those feathers lifting from the paper

All of this combines to make one appreciate what an artist’s eye Hiroshige had, and his printer too for that matter. Impossible points of view, interesting framing, an insistence on showing the lowly facts of life as well as the noble things … these keep the prints continually fresh and interesting.

Horse dung. A fact of life but very controversial
for a piece of art. I myself loved seeing the straw horseshoes

The book itself is also lovely, bound like a Japanese book, in a case with bamboo-like clasps. This setting prepares one for the treasury of art contained within. Just as Hiroshige would have wanted, one suspects.

About Julie Davis

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