japonisme: sinbad the buddha

13 January 2008

sinbad the buddha

i am not a hokusai expert, so i am still vulnerable to the wonder encountering a new area of his talents fosters. so when moon river mentioned a site with books illustrated by him, i went to check it out.

my first reaction was that these were different from any hokusai i remembered seeing; they were more narrative, with more depth to the characters. two books are offered. one is a collection of limerick-type poems (humorous, perhaps a bit ribald), none of which could i find a translation for. though the women featured look neither ribald not humorous, they do look more like real women than one usually finds in ukiyo-e.

my second impression, though, was that the illustrations in the other book(s), the life story of the buddha, reminded me of the illustrations from the era called the golden age of illustration.

when i first saw this one i immediately thought of s. clay wilson's 'the checkered demon.' but as i paged through the illustrations from edmond (or edmund--he changed it) dulac, i began to feel that the similarities were even more striking.

hmmmm, i thought... could dulac have seen them? "Dulac was born in Toulouse, France, 22 October 1882, the son of a commercial traveller. He began drawing and painting at a very early age, and his holidays were spent copying Japanese prints." 1

discussing another artist, bpib says, "Goble [was] well-versed in watercolor techniques and very influenced by the same Japanese techniques that fascinated Dulac." (though they don't mention this in dulac's bio).

according to wikipedia, "The Jātaka Tales [the books hokusai was illustrating] refer to a voluminous [547] body of folklore-like literature concerning the previous births (jāti) of the Buddha."

hmmmm, i wondered... could there be any actual relationship between these stories and the sinbad ones? or was the similarity of the illustrations merely coincidence, or perhaps inspiration?

"I have now followed the Western history of the Buddhist Book of Birth Stories along two channels only. Space would fail me, and the reader's patience perhaps too, if I attempted to do more. But I may mention that the inquiry is not by any means exhausted. A learned Italian has proved that a good many of the stories of the hero known throughout Europe as Sinbad the Sailor are derived from the same inexhaustible treasury of stories witty and wise." wrote thomas william rhys davids in 1880. 2

"These 'Jakata stories' about the Buddha were translated into Persian, Greek, Latin and Hebrew and formed the basis of some of the most famous story sequences of the Common Era - Sinbad, the Arabian Nights and Aesop's Fables - the latter being compiled by a monk in 14th century Byzantium."3

as has been mentioned here before, dulac was certainly not the only illustrator of his time to be influenced by the japanese prints. to mention only two others here by no means excludes anyone. in fact one would be hard pressed to find one who wasn't.

as dulac, along with arthur rackham and harry clarke and countless others demonstrate with their numbers, the phenomenon of japonisme was deeper and more labyrinthine than we have even begun to discuss.

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Blogger rochambeau said...

I love your site!
Found you through Princess H.

Happy New Year!

14 January, 2008 11:26  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thanks constance--and happy new year to you too! that princess is the source of so many good things

14 January, 2008 12:11  
Anonymous liza cowan said...

That's fascinating, Lotus. The spheres of influence of The Buddah are far reaching.

Good research! Keep it up, and thanks.

14 January, 2008 16:29  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

liza! thank you very much! it was cool tracking all that down, and also cool is someone recognizing that!


14 January, 2008 17:30  

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