Koi and Carp

by moods & appetites
October 23rd, 2008 4 responses »

Kintaro in the Fifth Month, Riding a Carp by Yoshitsuya is an Edo woodblock that depicts Kintaro, a popular children’s character that is strikingly similar to modern-day superheroes and cartoons. The woodblock printing method allowed for multiple copies to be produced from a single design, so although it wasn’t considered fine art, it fit perfectly within the context of the flourishing bourgeois culture. The flat planes of color prompted a variety of designs and perspectives, as the sense of movement is playfully displayed in Yoshitsuya’s print. Hiroshige, although not as flamboyant, also depicts the carp in a detailed fashion, as the carving technique would have allowed for each scale to become distinct.

Kintaro prints

Woodblock prints

Photos by Katrina

Kintaro in the Fifth Month, Riding a Carp (Yoshitsuya, ca. 1840)

This kimono was worn by a daughter from a family of prominent textile designers, and the level of artistry and quality is attributed to the attention to textile design and growth of the merchant class that started in the Edo period. Relatively many kimonos survive today, and they are also the focus of Edo woodblock prints and paintings.

The full kimono

Detail: Kimono with carp, water lilies, and morning glories, Meiji period • Spring Koi tattoo style T-shirtKoi Japanese tattoo zip up hoodie

The Hermit Riding a Carp is painted by a follower of Shohaku, who was featured in the “Traces of Ink” entry. However, the loose, Zen-inspired brushstrokes are replaced by the meticulous Kano school style that emerged in the fifteenth century. These two ways of painting are not all that far apart, though, because the Kano style was inspired by Zen, Chinese, and Yamato-e style painting. It came, in large part, as a response to the mood of the time, and its success is attributed to patronage by the shogunate, and demand by an expanding middle and upper class. The school applied their style to painting silk screens used as sliding doors, walls, or small decorations that found their way into many wealthy homes. Subjects were therefore more expressive, because they had to appeal to many different tastes, and played with detail and composition.

More on the Kano school

An essay on animals in Japanese art

Hermit Riding a Carp, attributed to the Shohaku Scho • Silver lantern with koi pearl necklaceSwimming Carp by Ando Hiroshige

A Rare Mid-15th Century Ming Blue and White Porcelain Dish Decorated with a Leaping Carp. Probably from a Shipwreck

4 responses to “Koi and Carp”

  1. Takeshi

    An interesting side note is that koi banners are flown in Japan on Boys’ Day on the Fifth of the Fifth Month (lunar calendar, though people know celebrate it in May). One might not associate koi with power, but they way they sometimes swam upstream, as you see in some prints or paintings, shows how the Japanese saw them, not as some slimy catfish-like creature, but one with beauty, grace, and forcefulness.

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