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  • The God of Wealth in Western GarbKawanabe Kyōsai's Portrait of Edoardo Chiossone as Daikokuten
  • Donatella Failla (bio)

Edoardo Chiossone (1833-1898), employed by the Printing Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Finance from 1875 to 1891, is famous as the engraver of the banknotes and stamps issued by the Meiji government and for his portraits of many notable figures, beginning with the Emperor Meiji. He also was a collector of Japanese and Chinese art, and when he died in Tokyo in 1898, he bequeathed the works he had assembled to the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts in his native Genoa.1 Housed today in the Chiossone Museum, the artifacts he gathered comprise paintings, Buddhist sculptures, archaeological objects, bronze ware, coins, lacquer ware, porcelain, enamels, theatrical masks, arms and armor, musical instruments, costumes, and one of the world's most notable collections of ukiyo-e paintings, prints, and illustrated books.2 In 1993 a new survey and appraisal of the museum's holdings resulted in the discovery of a curious piece, an inkwash done circa 1885-1886 by the painter Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889) that depicts Chiossone in the guise of Daikokuten , the popular deity of prosperity (see below, page 210, figure 10). Attesting to the interaction between the representatives of two different artistic traditions and adding yet another facet to the long and diverse history of images of Daikoku, Kyōsai's [End Page 193] inkwash offers a vignette of a particular moment in Meiji history. Below, I shall attempt to explore some of the avenues of investigation it opens up.

Edoardo Chiossone

Born into a family traditionally engaged in paper manufacture, engraving, and printing, Edoardo Chiossone studied at the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts, where in 1852 he obtained a diploma in engraving and design with the qualification of "professor," which officially entitled him to teach. After graduation, he worked in Florence at the National Bank of the Kingdom of Italy (Banca Nazion-ale nel Regno d'Italia), which in 1868 sent him to Frankfurt, Germany, for further training in the techniques of engraving and printing paper currency at the graphics workshop of Dondorf and Naumann. In 1874 he moved to London, where he took on a position with the De La Rue Company. The same year, the Japanese government invited him to come to Tokyo to set up the engraving division of the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance (Ōkurashō Insatsukyoku ). Arriving in January 1875, he continued to be employed by the Printing Bureau until his retirement in 1891. In those sixteen-some years he designed and engraved more than five hundred plates for the stamps, banknotes, state bonds, and monopoly stamps issued by the Meiji government.3 As such he was intimately involved with the creation of the instruments for establishing and promulgating the authority of the modern machinery of state finance. He also trained the next generation of engravers employed by the Printing Bureau in up-to-date techniques of engraving and printing paper currency.

Chiossone created as well the Meiji government's modern, Western-style, official portraiture: we owe to him all the official portraits of members of the establishment and public figures of the period, including the emperor, the empress, princes and princesses and members of the court, ministers, generals, and important bureaucrats.4 His portraits of Emperor Meiji, still exhibited today in the Meiji Memorial Museum (Meiji Kinenkan ) in Tokyo, became universally known through the distribution of photographic copies to schools and public offices throughout Japan.5 The government also displayed it abroad as the official state portrait of the Japanese sovereign. Chiossone further played a part in the development of a comprehensive overview of Japanese cultural heritage. In 1879 he took part in a four-and-a-half-month government survey of major art works and cultural sites in the Kantō, Chūbu, and Kinki regions. He produced some two hundred drawings of the objects viewed and was responsible for the lithographic plates used to illustrate the survey's report of its findings, published between 1880 and 1883 in fourteen volumes as Kokka yohō (The Lasting [End Page 194] Fragrance of the Nation's Glory). The occasion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 193-218
Launched on MUSE
2006-06-19
Open Access
No
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