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2002 articles 1989 articles

Kaempfer's album of famous sights of seventeenth-century Japan

Yu-Ying Brown


WITHIN the covers of a large and weighty album bound in western style and preserved in The (Western) Manuscript Collections of the British Library (Add. MS. 5252; bearing Sloane's old classification 'Bibliothecae Sloanianae Min. 47') are to be found three groups of curiously varied material. The first consists of a series of fifty Japanese paintings executed in brilliant colours and in gold, each on paper measuring 215 x 322 mm. (ff. 1-50). They depict famous sights of Japan enlivened by vignettes of people engaged in a variety of activities, though mostly pleasure outings or pilgrimages to shrines, temples and scenic spots. The second comprises seven Japanese figure drawings mounted on ff. 53-59, together with three padded applique pictures (ff. 68-70), now identified as oshie (pressed pictures). The third group seems to be entirely Chinese in origin. It consists of twenty-six floral and figure pictures in silk brocade or embroidery (ff. 51, 52, 60-67, 100-15). These otherwise unrelated groups of items have one thing in common. They were all smuggled out of Japan in 1692 by the German physician and traveller, Dr Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), and have all, until recently, lain dormant, in pristine condition, among the British Museum's foundation collections. This paper seeks to introduce the first and major part of the album only, namely the remarkable set of fifty miniature paintings. These are of unique importance for all historians of Japanese art and culture as well as for specialists in 'Kaempfer studies'. The other two groups, fascinating as they are, deserve separate treatment within the realm of Far Eastern folk-art.

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