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Ram from Takeuchi Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals


 Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Ram from the series

Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

(Seihō gahaku hitsu jūnishi jō)

by Takeuchi Seihō, 1900-1915

Boar from Takeuchi Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals
IHL Cat. #920

About This Print and Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals

This print, picturing a woman walking through a group of sheep, is from the folding album (orihonSeihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals, published by Unsōdō Publishing, containing twelve prints each picturing an animal in the zodiac.  This image represents the eighth animal in the set sequence of animals symbolizing the houses of the zodiac in Chinese lore, namely the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog and pig.

Each of the prints is a woodblock facsimile of what must have been an original watercolor created by Seihō, a painter rather than a print maker. In describing an earlier book of prints by the artist, also published by Unsōdō Publishing, Jack Hillier notes that the Meiji print-makers responded to the challenge of reproducing Seihō's watercolors, with "marvelous interpretive skills" and goes on to say “There is, in truth, a complete abnegation of the medium qua woodcut; its own virtues of bold line and flat wash are sacrificed in the cause of a facsimile rendering of a water-colour: this was a fundamental change in technique which led to incredible feats of reproduction…”1

Dates of Publication
It is unclear when the twelve prints were originally issued.  Japan's National Diet Library lists their copy of the "bound book" (和装) as being published in 1900.  The British Museum lists their copy as published circa 1900.  The Rijksmuseum lists their copy as being published between 1900 and 1915.2  Several rare booksellers list their copies as being published between 1910 and 1912.  Unfortunately, neither the museums or the booksellers show the colophon from the book, which would allow confirmation of the date of publishing.

In addition to the prints that were bound into folding albums, most, if not all, of the designs were issued at a later date (the Art Institute of Chicago suggests c. 1930s/1940s) as single sheets. These single sheet prints have a margin around them which is not present in the prints bound into a album and they do not have a centerfold, a result of these large dai-oban size prints being folded over when bound into an album. Some, if not all, of the designs were printed in 1903 by Unsōdō, with some modifications to the background (see this collection's IHL Cat. 1576 Tiger as an example).  These 1903 prints were likely also issued as part of a folding album, as the examples I've seen all have a horizontal centerfold. The 1903 prints do carry a date of publication in their margin along with the publisher's copyright under the name of Yamada Naozaburō 山田直三郎, the founder of Unsōdō Publishing.  In addition, some, but not all of the twelve prints were re-issued (post-war II, I believe) by Unsōdō in shikishiban (square format).

For thumbnail images of the entire set of prints see this collection's print Boar from Takeuchi Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals.

comparison of this collection's print on the left, originally part of a folding album,
with a later reissued print.
click on image to enlarge

1 The Art of the Japanese Book, Jack Hillier, Sothebys Publications, London, 1987, p. 991.
2 The Rijksmuseum provides the following description of their copy of the album: "Light brown cover with mid-top white title strip with gold-colored splashes; 13 sheets: first page, title page; 12 prints with the animals of the zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, swine; Last page, colophon. In green cover with white title strip."

Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #920
 Title  Ram (an untitled print depicting a woman walking through a flock of sheep, including three rams.)
 Series  Seihō's Album of the Twelve Calendrical Animals [also seen translated as Seihō’s Album of the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac]
 セイホウ ガハク ヒツ ジュウニシジョウ Seihō gahaku hitsu jūnishi jō
 Takeuchi Seihō (1864-1942)
 Seal  Seihō ga as shown above
 Publication Date  1900-1915
 Edition  likely original edition
 Publisher  Unsōdō Publishing
 Printer  unknown
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  fair - original album backing; original centerfold; toning throughout, minor soiling; corners damaged, 1/2" tear middle of left margin
 Genre  nihonga (also classed as e-hon, as the series' prints exist as bound volumes)
 Format  dai oban
 H x W Paper  14 1/8 x 18 1/4 in. (35.9 x 46.4 cm )
 Collections This Print  The British Museum has the original album of 12 prints in their collection 1991,1112,0.52 as does the Rijksmuseum RP-P-1993-138, the National Diet Library in Japan NDL請求記号 (callNumber) 721.9 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2013.799
 Reference Literature