Dating japanese woodblock prints

The Signature

However, with woodblock prints, the artist would carve their signature mark onto the wood, to be stamped on the paper with the rest of the print. These signatures are, of course, to link an artist to a print, so on some of the prints in this collection, for example " Attacking Genbu Gate " when the print is supposed to be a source of propaganda for the public about the war, the artist didn't want his mark on the print, so a carved signature was ommited, and in most cases, just the publisher's mark was left.

Aside from propaganda, in the case of regular war reports, the artist would often still leave their signature. The artist is only the designer of the print.

They draw and color it on a nondiscript paper. The real work of transformation to the final print is in the charge of various other workers that work under a publisher. The publisher, a professional that oversees the wood cutters, the inking of the wood, and the overlay onto the print, will leave his own mark on the page.


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  • The Publisher's Mark.
  • Viewing Japanese Prints: Inscriptions and Seals on Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints.
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This publisher's mark is an outline that has writing inside of it, and the outline is typically a recognizable design. This mark is oftentimes located at the bottom left, opposite of the signature, but this isn't always the case. Inside these marks, the text may be different, as different workers might have worked on different prints, but the publisher is still the same. In the case of prints created as propaganda, even if the artist omits his signature, the publisher will still put their mark on said print.

This seal, always done in red, is the secondary mark of the artist. An artist may decide to either use a certain seal for most or all of their career, or use several different ones, changing them periodically. If the latter is done, the seal may be crucial in order to date the print. The example below from circa read right to left combines the print designer's information "painted by the artist Torii Kiyomasu" with the publisher's trademark and name "the publisher Urokogata-ya". Other examples include those in which the publisher's name and street address are inscribed along with the seal and perhaps even additional information such as advertising slogans or appeals to purchase the print.

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Much later, in , ukiyo-e print publishers were required to include their names and addresses on prints, which they often placed in the vertical margins. Date Seals The date seals used on Japanese prints identify one of the 12 animals of the zodiac and a specific month for that seal see Kuniyoshi print: Although these signs repeat every 12 years, there is usually no question as to which year a particular sign of the zodiac belongs because other supporting evidence helps to establish an exact year such as other seals, the artist and his style, or subject matter.

The seals were known as kiwame "approved"; see circular seal above the date seal on right and later aratame "examined". The earliest known examples of ukiyo-e prints bearing censor seals seem to be from either late or early , so it appears that it took some months before the new system of censorship took effect, at least as far as including the new censor seals on the prints.

Date Seals in Japanese Prints

Sensitivity to the application of censorship caused publishers to take various measures to avoid prosecution. See, for example, Utamaro and the Physiognomists. Then in the self-censorship of the publishing guilds was ended and government censors called e-nanushi "headman of prints" were appointed to approve or reject designs see the Kuniyoshi illustration for two nanushi -style censor seals. The use of various censor seals singly or in combination lasted until around Various forms of these seals or their combinations allow us to date some prints with precision, while other seals permit only an estimate within a range of years.

Tips for Beginning Japanese Woodblock Collectors

In a new arrangement for censorship was established that required publishers to submit their designs to the Naimusho "Home Ministry" , with the requirement that all prints must include such information as name, full address, and date. Publishers would comply by inscribing this information either inside their seals and cartouches, or simply listing it in the margins.

Japanese Woodblock Print Search

Printer and Block Cutter Seals Despite the significant contributions made by printers and block cutters, the vast majority of ukiyo-e prints do not identify these important artisans either by inscription or seals. Occasionally, however, special editions of print designs did include their names, usually in the form of a small cartouche cut into the keyblock, but sometimes hand-stamped on the print.

The example on the immediate right displays the names and functions of two little known artisans: How do we interpret inscriptions and seals? Such information may include the following: Series title Subtitle Artist's signature Artist's seal Publisher's seal Censor's seal Date seal Printer's seal Carver's seal Other inscriptions, such as poems, biographies, descriptive stories, and declarations of many kinds.