The artist's manuscript mock-up for the unpublished Shichi kannon gyo zue [Sutra for Seven Bodhisattvas Illustrated by Shigemasa], containing 16 full-page ink drawings & one half-page title vignette for part III, with numerous correction slips & notes for the final, unrealized, stage of its publication. Written entirely in manuscript
by KITAO, Shigemasa
12; 27; 16 folding leaves with erratic foliation. Three parts in one vol. Small 8vo (142 x 193 mm.), orig. decorated covers embellished with mica, new stitching. [Japan]: after 1808; after 1817; & after 1818. A remarkable discovery, the mock-up for an unpublished illustrated work by Kitao (1739-1820), a master of book illustration, with 16 pages of his exquisite drawings. From this manuscript, we learn a great deal about the creative process leading up to the publication of illustrated books in the mid-Edo period. This work's religious contents also would have been a departure for Kitao, who was celebrated for his bijin-ga and yakusha-e. We have found no other illustrated religious book among his oeuvre, which amounts to almost 300 illustrated books. Kitao "was unusual among ukiyo-e artists because he was self-taught. His family ran a bookshop, and the young Shigemasa probably learnt his skills from studying illustrations in books sold in the family shop. His first works gained recognition during the late 1750s. Extant early works are benizuri-e and yakusha-e, but his principal output is in book illustration, which he practised throughout his career and which became the speciality of the Kitao school, of which he was the founder...His students included Kitao Masanobu, Keisai Masayoshi (1764-1824) and Kubo Shunman."-Oxford Art online. The present work was intended to be a comprehensive guide for pilgrims visiting the 33 Buddhist shrines and temples on the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage, each one associated with a particular kannon (or bodhisattva). It consists of two parts and a final section of addenda. The addenda contain two colophons, the first of which has Kitao's pen-name (Kitao Kosuisai) and his age, 79, at the time of the draft's completion. The first part offers historical information on each kannon, along with its merits and characteristics. Particular days of the year considered auspicious are recommended for visiting the temples and shrines. The seven kannon - with their names in Sanskrit (and phonetic spelling in Japanese) - prescribed for the 17th through 23rd days of the pilgrimage are shown with Kitao's skillful drawings in this first section. We find at the beginning of the next part a bibliography of five books for disciples to study. The text presents the mantra for each of the seven kannon, then 15 useful incantations (dharani) for pilgrims to employ. This second section features seven pages, each with four miniature drawings of kannon (for a total of 28). Two of these illustrations have been rendered on two slips pasted-on. At the end, there are ten wishes for followers to repeat in order that they might attain enlightenment. The third part starts with an illustrated sub-title and includes a portrait of Byakue daishi, a kannon, both by Kitao, and various excerpts from sutra. In very fine condition, preserved in a chitsu. ❧ Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, I, p. 348-"Shigemasa was primarily a book man. He produced quite a number of separate-sheet prints, most impressively certain bijin-ga 1777-80, and he was an accomplished painter...but he was more continuously occupied throughout his long career as an illustrator and designer of picture-books of all kinds...there is a sufficient body of works of consequence to place him alongside other artists whose major output was in books...".
(Inventory #: 6765)
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