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Catholic Samurai and the European Landscape.

Catholic Samurai and the European Landscape.

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Jeff Woodger

How the arrival of Catholic samurai in Rome in 1585 and 1615 should have a relationship to my development as a landscape painter has been like a detective story without a villain. My story spans three continents and two islands, and begins amongst the red burgundy walls, gold frames and oil paintings in the old Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, Australia over twenty years ago.


I had completed a BA (Fine Arts) at La Trobe University in 1986, and was employed as an assistant curator at the Bendigo Art Gallery in central Victoria. The Gallery was established in 1887, and has a substantial collection including French Impressionist, Barbizon School, British and Australian 19th century paintings. A painting in the collection by John Glover (1767-1849), a British landscape painter who emmigrated to Tasmania, interested me. Glover derived his style by copying and assimilating the manner of Claude Lorraine (1600-1682), a famous influential French classical landscape painter in the 17th century.


I left my position at the Bendigo Art Gallery and in 1992-1993 completed an MA (Fine Arts). The research topic being 'An Inquiry into 19th century Landscape Painting and its Presentation'. A Post-Modernist installation evolved which was a constructed burgundy walled gallery with my classical landscape paintings, and myself dressed as an 18th century journeyman painter. At that time I began to paint in the style of 18th and 19th century Classical and Romantic landscape painters. I went into art museums setting up my easel, oil paints and canvas, working in the manner of an 18th century painter in-situ. This type of painting is basically a lost art, unlike in Japan where sumi-e and suiboku-ga ink painting styles and techniques have been passed down for centuries as a cultural activity.


In 1994 I came to Nagoya, Japan and began to study sumi-e and suiboku-ga ink landscape painting with a Japanese sensei at culture centres, as well as holding exhibitions of my classical landscape paintings in Japan, Australia and England. In 1996 I went to England and studied at the Slade Art School, University College London.

While there I painted at the National Gallery, appropriating and copying classical landscapes in-situ. Also I did research at the British Museum, Prints and Drawing Room. I requested to examine the substantial collection of Claude Lorraine’s ink and wash drawings, which had greatly influenced John Glover. I was surprised to discover, through spending many hours examining the ink and wash drawings (used as preparatory studies for Claude’s oil paintings), that there seemed to be in quite a few of them a similarity with sumi-e and suiboku-ga. How could this be, I thought. In my studies of art history I had never read or heard of any Japanese influence on Claude Lorraine and Classical landscape painting in the 17th century.


Of course the Japanese influence on Claude Monet(1840-1926) and Vincent van Gogh(1853-90) in the late 19th century is well documented, through the ukiyo-e prints of Katsushika Hokusai(1760-1799) and Ando Hiroshige(1797-1858). I decided to carry out an investigation to answer the question whether Claude Lorraine in 17th century Rome had any connection with Japan and China. The standard art history books indicate that he was influenced by the early Flemish landscape painter Paul Bril (1554-1626), and the German landscape painter Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), both of whom worked in Rome, as well as by his Italian master Agostino Tassi (1580-1644). Later he was influenced by the Bolognese painters, particularly Domenichino (1581-1641), combined with the influence of ancient Roman landscape fresco’s. The bucolic poems of Virgil were the literary inspiration for his works. Of course he created many ink studies, out in the Campagna landscape near Rome, and at the Falls of Tivoli.


Claude Lorraine’s influence on the whole history of western landscape painting was enormous. He had a great influence on the British landscape painter Joseph Turner (1775-1851) amongst many others, including John Glover. Glover infact called himself the English Claude. The idea had crossed my mind, when looking at Glover’s painting at the Bendigo Art Gallery years previously, that it seemed to have an oriental influence.


Prior to the 17th century landscape painting in Europe did not exist as an independent genre. In the Renaissance (1400-1580) the emphasis was on the figure, primarily Jesus and the Madonna. However in Japan and China landscape painting had evolved over many centuries, from before the Sung and Yuan dynasties (960-1368) in China, and the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) in Japan.


In 2002 I put forward a PhD (Fine Arts) research proposal to investigate a possible link between Claude Lorraine and Japanese suiboku-ga, through the University of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. When I gave my first proposal speech at the university a person in the audience exclaimed 'It’s just your imagination, because you have lived in Japan too long'.


However I thoroughly investigated the research topic, discovering that the Portuguese and later Italian Jesuits had come to Japan during the Momoyama Period (1543-1640). Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) the daimyo of Owari Province (which is now Aichi Prefecture) sent samurai to Rome. As early as 1585, four young Catholic samurai had arrived in Rome, bearing gifts which included Japanese Kano School and suiboku-ga landscape paintings, that were presented and displayed in the Vatican Museum and the Museum in Verona. Japanese and Chinese scroll landscapes were on display in public and private collections and museums in Rome, which was the first city in Europe to publicly exhibit them. Claude was familiar with these collections in Rome.


Also he had a close working collaboration with a German artist and writer on art, Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688). He was Claude’s biographer and is acknowledged as one of the first art historians to write about Chinese and Japanese landscape painting in his thesis, called Teutsche Akademie, published in 1675.


Claude’s patrons included the Pope and the leading cardinals in the Vatican. The papal librarian and custodian of the Vatican art collection was Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), a German Jesuit and a Professor of Oriental Philology. He was an associate of Sandrart. Therefore Claude would have had a ready access to the Vatican’s collection of Japanese and Chinese landscape paintings, through his association with Sandrart and Kircher. It is documented that Kircher is one of the earliest artists to have copied Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings.


The second group of Catholic samurai to come to Rome arrived in 1615, lead by Hasekura Tsunenaga (1571-1622). He was associated with the daimyo Date Masamune of the Sendai Domain. It is recorded that Tsunenaga had his portrait painted in Rome by Claude Deruet (1588-1660), who was a French history painter and portraitist. Interestingly, Claude Lorraine studied and worked with Deruet in 1626. It is reasonable to imagine that the Tsunenaga samurai group would have given Deruet Japanese Kano School and suiboku-ga landscape paintings, which Claude would have studied.


My PhD (Fine Art) thesis entitled 'An Inquiry into Suiboku-ga and Kano School Influences on Rococo and Romantic Landscape Painting Through Claude Lorraine (1600-1682) and Salvator Rosa (1615-1673)’ goes into greater detail and analysis of the Japanese influence on Claude Lorraine, and his subsequent effect on 18th century Rococo chinoiserie, and 19th century Romantic landscape painting.


In my recent paintings illustrated here 'The Beautiful Looking East’ and 'The Sublime Looking East’, I have invented a new type of landscape painting which is a synthesis of my research. The paintings are oil on canvas and employ 19th century European classical techniques, combined with suiboku-ga foliage rendering devices. The paintings adopt a birds’ eye view perspective, a moving point perspective, combined with a vertical-axis composition with a diagonal and s-shape design. Western landscape paintings usually have a fixed-point perspective with a horizontal-axis composition, as illustrated in my painting 'The River’. Maybe the paintings indicate what Claude Lorraine may have painted if he had lived and studied art in Japan.


I will give a lecture on this topic at Nagoya University Project Gallery[clas] on Friday 15th May at 6:00pm. For more information 


Also I will be having an exhibition of my paintings and drawings at GalleryMOCA, Kitaoka Bldg.1F, 21-5-4, Sakae, Naka ku, Nagoya, 460-0008. Telephone/Fax 052 243 5751 from Tuesday 26th May to Sunday 31st May. An exhibition party (wine and cheese), Saturday 30th May at 5pm. All are welcome to attend the lecture and exhibition.

Catholic Samurai and the European Landscape.
Jeff Woodger at work
Catholic Samurai and the European Landscape.
Italianate Landscaoe with Mt. Fuji
Catholic Samurai and the European Landscape.
The Beautiful Looking East