Takeuchi Seihō’s album of the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac (栖鳳画伯筆十二支帖), 1905-06, is a woodblock folded printed book (orihon, accordion-style), made of ink, colour and metallic pigments on paper. The images illustrate the Chinese astrological, divided into 12 signs (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat or Sheep , Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig / Wild Boar ).
Takeuchi Seihō (竹内 栖鳳, nee Takeuchi Tsunekichi, December 20, 1864 – August 23, 1942) was a Japanese painter of the nihonga genre, active from the Meiji through the early Shōwa period. One of the founders of nihonga, his works spanned half a century and he was regarded as master of the prewar Kyoto circle of painters.
After a trip to Europe to see the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, Seihō explored the possibilities of a new naturalism with Japanese overtones (via: Modern Currents in Japanese Art by Michiaki Kawakita, 1974):
“While in Europe, I exchanged opinions with two or three painters, and it did not seem to me that there was much difference between what Europeans see and what we see. In the past the painting methods of Orient and Occident have been different, but one cannot overlook a certain spiritual link. Even in the subjective painting of the Orient, one cannot paint the true nature of something until one understands its actual form. The first step, therefore, is to learn the basic organization of form. After that, it is possible to grasp the overall meaning of things.
“In Japan today, however, what passes for subjective Oriental painting is a matter of copying old styles; the brush moves along by habit, and there is concern only for rules. It happens that in our times both the Orient and the Occident are concerned with subjective painting, but the Western painters are proceeding along a fundamentally sound path, while Japanese painters are blindly following the rules that have been inherited, without examining the fundamental causes and effects. If Japanese painting is to develop, we must make up for our short points by adopting the better features of European painting.”
Such division is connected with the Jupiter cycle around the Sun, which lasts about 12 years. Every year is represented by a different zodiac sign and the related characteristics.
There are additionally 5 elements, known as Celestial Stems (water, earth wood, fire, metal), which change every year, giving a different spiritual colour to a particular sign.
The Chinese Zodiac calendar, and by extension the Japanese astrological system (known as kanshi), is far more elaborate than popular western assumption allows. Japanese Zodiac animals (juni shi) are not only assigned by year, but also by month (‘inner animals’), by day (‘true animals’) and by hour of the day (‘secret animals’). So a Dragon may be a Snake internally, an Ox truly, and a Rabbit secretly. In total, Japanese astrology allows for 103,680 possible combinations (60 year cycle (5 elements × 12 animals) × 12 months × 12 days × 12 periods of the day).
– Via Stephen Ellcock
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