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Hibiya Mitsu Zō (Portrait of Hibiya Mitsu)

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

By Kanō Norinobu

Colored silk canvas; scroll

First year of Meiji (1868)


 This is a portrait of Kenjirō's grandmother, the 80 year-old Mitsu (日比谷美津) (1788–1884), who was married into the Yoshida family (吉田家), a wealthy farmer family in Itōya village (present-day Ayase, Adachi ward). It was painted at the request of Hibiya Kenjirō (日比谷健次郎) (1836–1886).

 The artist was Kanō Norinobu (狩野則信) (unknown birth date – 1882), who also worked as an Omote (表絵師) painter (the Tokugawa shogunate’s official artist). It is believed that the portrait underwent several changes before it was completed. The Hibiya Family has several portraits of Hibiya Mitsu with Norinobu's signatures.

This work presented above is the final work, painted on silk with a Chinese poem inscription at the top.

 For this painting, expensive materials and sophisticated techniques are used. The top of the makuwa uri (真桑瓜) (oriental melons) and smoking pipes are decorated with gold paint, and the kimono (着物) and obi (帯) (belt) are decorated with detailed patterns emerging from different angles, using dark black ink and lacquer to create a luster.

* There is a manuscript of the Hibiya Mitsu painting by Kanō Norinobu on colored paper (photo below).

Kanō Norinobu: Portraits of the Hibiya Family and author of their biography

 The artist who painted Hibiya Mitsu was Kanō Norinobu. He was an Omote artist and head of the Shiba-Kanasugi-Katamachi family (芝金杉片町狩野家).

 Norinobu became the leading figure of one of the Kanō families at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate's reign (1603–1868) to the Meiji era (1868–1912), during which many social changes were observed. Despite his importance and social position, he is only mentioned as one of the “official painters” (oeshi お絵師) in the military chronicle “Shugyoku Bunkan” (袖玉武鑑) (published in the third year of Keio which was the last year of the Tokugawa shogunate's reign). In addition, the illustrator of the “Meiji Kunshō Zufu” (明治勲章図譜), and a list of orders issued by the Meiji government in 1881 are mentioned.

 As Kanō Hōgai (狩野芳崖) and Hashimoto Gahō (橋本雅邦) drew pictures for crafts/architecture (seizu 製図) for work in the early Meiji period and later became successful, Norinobu is assumed to have worked as a drawer, serving for the government and the private sector as after the Meiji Restoration.

 However, according to the date shown in a traditional Chinese poem, “Hibiya Mitsu Zō” was painted during the first year of Meiji until immediately after the Meiji Restoration. It also indicates Norinobu was serving the shogunate as an Omote artist until just before the Meiji Restoration.

 The details suggest how Norinobu as an Omote painter and Hibiya Kenjirō agreed to produce the portraits (as shown above) during a time of uncertainty and unstable transitions of two eras.

 However, this group of valuable portraits have been passed down through the Hibiya family and is an example of how Omote artists connected with and worked with people around the time the social environment was changing from the Tokugawa shogunate to the Meiji government.

All Japanese names in this translation follow the Japanese order: surname-name, and all Japanese names and words follow the Hepburn romanization method.

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