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Reviewed by:
  • Derek Massarella
Under Eagle Eyes: Lithographs, Drawings and Photographs from the Prussian Expedition to Japan, 1860-61. Edited by Sebastian Dobson and Sven Saaler. Munich: Iudicium, 2011. 392 pages. Hardcover €49.00.

In view of the overwhelming influence of the United States on Japan's institutions and culture after 1945, it is helpful to be reminded of an earlier but also important era when Japan had a wider range of models from which to choose as first the bakufu and then the Meiji leaders attempted to reshape Japanese institutions and society. This was partly in response to the challenges created by the arrival of Commodore Perry. Foreigners did not cause the bakumatsu crisis, nor did they decide the outcome, but they certainly contributed to it.

In 1858, under duress, the bakufu concluded agreements with the Americans, Dutch, Russians, British, and French to open up certain ports to foreign nationals for trade. Equally [End Page 184] unwelcome for the bakufu authorities were the Prussians, representing not only Prussia but a number of other German states, who came calling on 2 September 1860. Friedrich Albrecht Count zu Eulenburg, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, sailed into Edo Bay on the SMS Arcona, the pride of the Prussian navy. The Japanese were in no hurry to negotiate, and the new arrivals were forced to wait until the negotiations finally succeeded and the Prussian-Japanese Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation was signed in Edo on 24 January 1861, to the great relief of the Prussian delegation but without the participation of one of the principal Japanese negotiators, Councillor for Foreign Affairs Hori Oriibe no kami Toshihiro, who committed seppuku shortly before the signing. Though the reason remains unclear, his suicide may have been related to the pressure of the negotiations.

Eulenburg's mission was not purely diplomatic and commercial, nor limited only to Japan, for he was in addition envoy and minister to the courts of China and Siam. The diplomatic mission doubled as a scientific expedition, undertaken with the support and encouragement of Germany's then-greatest-living scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, who died before Eulenburg's departure. Humboldt's own scientific curiosity had been sparked by the sight of a rice stalk brought back from Japan by Carl Peter Thunberg. Before his untimely death, Humboldt had played an important but unofficial role in the selection of the non-diplomatic members of the delegation. In Japan these individuals used their time fully and productively to carry out their scientific work and produced a stunning visual record of the mission.

Under Eagle Eyes, a trilingual volume (written in German, English, and Japanese) published to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Amity, focuses on this visual record rather than on the mission's diplomatic aims and achievements. As the editors note, the diplomatic aspects of the encounter have been covered thoroughly elsewhere.1 The volume contains excellent reproductions of the lithographs made from the drawings and paintings of the official artists and photographers of the expedition. The artists appointed were Albert Berg and Wilhelm Heine, although Heine, who was keenly interested in new technology, eventually concentrated on photographs rather than drawings regardless of his considerable artistic talent and accomplishments. The official photographer was Carl Bismarck, Eulenburg's illegitimate son. The book's originality lies in its demonstration of how the artists processed the raw material they had amassed, making it available to a wider audience in published form by taking advantage of the new photolithography technology. This was done through Berg's official record of the mission, which was finally completed in 1873 on a much reduced scale than originally planned because of budget cuts, and in the unofficial record produced by the disgruntled Heine between 1873 and 1875.2 Neither the source material nor the final published works suggest an "Orientalizing" of the subject matter, as can be seen most interestingly in the book's presentation of many of the lithographs along with the original photographs from [End Page 185] which they evolved. Inevitably an artist's predilections influence his work, and for Berg this is obvious from his fascination with vegetation rather than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 184-187
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-22
Open Access
No
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