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07/10/2002 (20:00)

by Donatella Failla, Director

The Collector and his time

The entire artistic patrimony of the Museum is the fruit of the collecting activity of the Genoese engraver Edoardo Chiossone (Arenzano 1833-T_ky_ 1898) during his 23 year stay in Japan (1875-1898). Having moved to T_ky_ at the invitation of the Imperial government of Meiji Japan, to direct the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance (_kurash_ Insatsu Kyoku), Chiossone designed and engraved about 500 plates for postage and state monopoly stamps, banknotes, bonds and government stock. He is unanimously credited with having brought Japan¹s public finance into the modern age through the creation of new paper values and currency notes.

Chiossone also created Western-style official portraiture for political and diplomatic use and, lastly, contributed to the establishment of an up-to-date concept of the Japanese cultural heritage and of its depiction in imagery. Living in Japan during the most active and productive formative period of the Meiji Imperial Restoration, Chiossone was one of the authors of modernisation and contributed to the internationalisation of Japanese culture.

Two Imperial Orders of Merit were bestowed on the Italian engraver: the Rising Sun (Kyokujitsush_, 4th class, 1880) and the Sacred Treasure (Zuih_sh_, 3rd class, 1891). Chiossone¹s important position in the inner circle of central state bureaucracy opened up a series of contacts, friendships and cultural relations of the highest order to him. Moreover, his extensive, profound learning and experience in the fields of art and history stimulated from the very beginning of his stay a deep interest in Japanese art, which, at that period of dramatic economic and socio-political change, was readily available on the antique market.

All sectors of the figurative and decorative arts are covered by the Edoardo Chiossone collections, which he bequeathed in his will to the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts in Genoa - the place where he had received his artistic and cultural training as a youth - so that it could be exhibited and made accessible to the public.

The Museum¹s patrimony and the history of its exhibitions

The Chiossone Museum collection was put together in Japan by just one man during a continuous 23 year period (1875-1898), which coincided with the crucial, fervid epoch of modernisation. Never broken up or divided, this patrimony includes paintings, polychrome prints and illustrated books, Buddhist sculptures and artefacts, archeological objects, bronze ware, coins, lacquer ware, porcelain, enamels, theatrical masks, arms and armour, musical instruments, costumes, fabrics and clothing accessories for men and women.

Both because of the artistic content of the collection and its significance, and because of the great number of the works involved ­ approximately 20.000 - it provides great potential for the cultural growth of the international community and for exchanges between Genoa, Japan and all the environments dealing with the history of Japanese art and culture. Ukiyoe paintings and prints of the Chiossone Museum are particularly appreciated, both in Italy and abroad.

The history of the Museum¹s exhibitions spans 103 years, from 1898 to the present day, and corresponds to four periods. 1905-1948. Sent to Italy after the death of Edoardo Chiossone (11th April 1898), the collection was organised by Okakura Kakuz_ (1862-1913) and set out in a museum by Alfredo Luxoro on the third floor of the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy inaugurated on the 30th October 1905 the Chiossone Museum of Japanese Art. that was to remain open in the same building until 1940. Soon after the declaration of World War II, in 1940 the Chiossone collections were packed away and evacuated under the responsibility and at the expense of Genoa Council, which became their owner after the war, thanks to a clause in Chiossone¹s will.

1948-1971. In accordance with the conditions imposed by the testament, in 1948 Genoa Council deliberated the planning and construction of a suitable building to permanently house the collection: this made the Chiossone Museum the first public museum in Italy to be planned and built in the post-war period under the aegis and at the expense of a public authority. The location of the construction was decided on as the site of the former neoclassical villa of the Marquis Gian Carlo Di Negro (1769-1857), situated inside the city park of the same name, which had been completely destroyed by the bombardment of 1942. The project was assigned to the architect Mario Labò (d. 1961), construction began in 1953 and was completed in 1970.

Inaugurated in May 1971, the building is an extraordinary example of rationalist architecture in ferroconcrete, made up of an avant-corps (foyer) with a terraced roof, backing onto the construction¹s main body: this is a single volume, set out in a large rectangular hall on the ground floor, with five projecting galleries at the two longer walls.

The galleries, two of them on the same side as the sea, and three on that of the mountains, are joined by flights of stairs to form a continuous route around the exhibition spaces. The lay-out and collection instalment were handed over in 1967 to the engineer Luciano Grossi Bianchi, who planned and carried them out in collaboration with Giuliano Frabetti, Director of the Chiossone Museum (1956-1990) and Caterina Marcenaro, Director of the Fine Arts Department of Genoa Council.

The Museum¹s location inside the Villetta Di Negro park is most privileged: the green hilly garden, overlooking the 19th century Piazza Corvetto, is set in the very centre of Genoa, yet the Museum occupies a retired position with a magnificent panorama. From the terraced walkway running along the south-west side of the building, can be enjoyed a marvellous vista of the old city, with its expanse of grey, slate roofs, churches, palaces and mediaeval towers, standing out against the blue horizon of the Ligurian Sea.

1971-1998. Inaugurated on the 7th May 1971 and from then onwards open to the public, the Museum kept the same lay-out until February 1998. The instalment of the exhibits prepared in 1971 had very brief descriptive aids, and consisted in a selection of works drawn from the various categories forming the collection, ordered partly according to type, partly according to materials and technique.

Following Director Frabetti¹s retirement (May 1990), the present writer took over the directorship (November 1993), after having been a research scholar in the Chiossone Museum during the past eleven years, by appointment of the Ligurian Regional Government.

1998-today. On the hundredth anniversary of Edoardo Chiossone¹s death (April 1998), the permanent exhibition was renewed by a complete rotation of the works on display. New didactic aids were prepared and inserted along the visitor¹s route. The arrangement of the large hall (large Buddhist sculpture) and of the fifth gallery (armour) remained intact, given their great beauty and culturally communicative impact.

A brief guided tour

The Museum¹s structure is divided into two large rooms on the ground floor and five galleries. The objects on permanent display, recently changed (April 1998), illustrate the main phenomena of the history of artistic culture in the Japanese archipelago and its relations with Continental Oriental Asia - Antiquity, Buddhism, samurai civilisation, the development of the applied and decorative arts in the Edo Period. The collections are presented in thematic and technical groups, highlighting the peculiarities of each tradition of form, aesthetic and workmanship, while ostensibly referring to the wider, common background of culture and history. Foyer. The visit begins on the ground floor, in the foyer which houses the ticket office, a sales-desk for catalogues and Museum publications and an information and welcome point for visitors, with free informative and educational material. Near the entrance is displayed the bronze bust portraying Edoardo Chiossone, a copy of the original still today in the gardens of the Securities Office in T_ky_.

Main Hall.

This houses the permanent display of a fair number of large Japanese bronze sculptures from the Edo Period which escaped the anti-Buddhist iconoclasm of the second half of the 19th century: among them the statue Eleven-headed Kannon (J_ichimen Kannon), dating from the Genroku era (1688-1704), is worthy of note. On the dais of the same room, bronze Buddhist lanterns from Japanese temples are displayed.

First Gallery (facing the sea, showcases 1-9)

In showcase 1 archaeological evidence and finds from Japanese pre- and proto-history, the result of chance 19th century discoveries and of the first scientific digs of the Meiji Period: of exceptional interest are Ritual bronze bell with running water pattern (Ry_sui mon d_taku), Ritual spear head and Ritual halberd head, examples of the metalworking technique of the middle Yayoi Period (1st century B.C.-1st century A.D.). Also notable are the fittings of the princely tombs of the Kofun or ³Great Burials² Period (4th­8th century A.D.), including amongst other things various comma-shaped beads or ³bent jewels² (magatama).

In showcase 2, mirrors from China and Japan, documenting the prominent Chinese influence on this sacred Japanese bronzeware: the Chinese pieces date from the Han to the Song Period (3rd-13th Centuries), the Japanese from the Heian to the Edo Period (8th-19th centuries). The Mirror with four animals and ten Buddhist divinities (gamontai butsuj_ ky_, China, 5th century) and the Eight-lobed mirror with pair of birds and h_s_ge flowers (Japan, Fujiwara Period, early 12th century) are of extraordinary artistic and historical importance.

In the following five showcases 3-7, Buddhism is represented, the pan-Asiatic religion born in India in the 6th century B.C. and adopted as the state religion in Japan in 552 A.D. Showcase 3 displays examples of statuettes among which Kannon Bosatsu, an important gilt bronze (kond_butsu) from Korea (Silla Period, 7th-8th centuries) and a small bronze showing Emaciated __kyamuni, the historical Buddha (Japan, 17th century). In showcase 4 are small Buddhist statues from Continental and Southern Asia and Japanese sculptures of the Edo Period, referring to salvationist Mah_y_na currents. In showcase 5, early ritual implements, statuettes and liturgical instruments from esoteric Japanese Buddhism milieux (Mikky_). Of particular note, Case for sacred Buddhist scriptures (ky_zutsu) with a dedicatory inscription and date corresponding to 1215, and Incense-burner with magpie-tail handle (jakubi gata e-k_ro, Asuka Period, 552-644 A.D.). In showcases 6-7, the Thirty-three hypostases of Kannon Bosatsu (1823) in patinated bronze, document the cult and the particular devotion to Avalokite_vara, the compassionate and merciful ³Bodhisattva who listens to the tears of the world².

In showcases 8-9, equipment for war, hunting and riding (helmets and masks, saddles and stirrups, swords, sword-fittings and accessories for arms and armour) show the incalculable historical, economic and aesthetic importance that the feudal system exercised over a vast class of artists and specialised craftsmen. From this position one enjoys an interesting overall view of the contents of the first gallery, with the parade of twelve complete suits of armour.

Second Gallery (in the direction of the mountains, showcases 10-17)

In showcases 10-11, small wooden Buddhist statuettes, among which the sculptural models of the Ni_, two guardians of the Buddhist Law (14th-15th centuries) are noteworthy. There is also a Hyakumant_, small votive wooden st_pa dating back to the late Nara Period (c. 760).

In showcases 12-13, masks used in N_ theatre plays (16th-19th centuries) and Ky_gen. Among these should also be noted the great Mask of the Dragon King (Ran Ry__), used in the Bugaku court dance.

In showcases 14-17 the applied and decorative arts are represented, with examples of the grafting of Chinese traditions onto Japanese culture, through the importation of objects of great worth and aesthetic significance: the exhibition of several objects of great formal distinction also documents the historical phenomenon of the Japanese collecting of ³things Chinese² (karamono). In showcase 14 (Chinese and Japanese enamels), Pair of cylindrical enamel vases by the artist Takeuchi Ch_bee (cat. 154). In showcase 15, the Japanese production of porcelain is exemplified by objects from the Kutani, Arita, Seto, Hirata, Ky_to and Satsuma kilns. In showcase 16, carved Chinese lacquer ware, Japanese gold lacquerware (makie), and lacquer from Okinawa (16th to 19th century). In showcase 17, male clothing accessories in carved wood and gold makie lacquer (17th-19th centuries): small tiered cases for carrying pills known as inr_, pipe-cases (kiseruzutsu), tobacco-boxes (tonkotsu) and more than forty pendants carved in ivory, horn and wood (netsuke).

Third and Fourth Gallery (respectively in the direction of the mountains, and of the sea)

Previously dedicated to the permanent exhibition of Japanese painting, the two galleries have been given new showcases, sponsored by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Genova e Imperia on the occasion of the World Summit in Genoa. These new showcases, covering a length of 18 and 20 metres respectively, are suitable for the rotation of all types of art work: they are equipped with devices maintaining the best conditions of light and preventative conservation, with special regard to paintings on silk and paper, polychrome woodblock prints (nishikie), textiles and all materials whose exhibition must necessarily be limited to brief periods.

Fifth Gallery (in the direction of the mountains, showcases 18-23)

In six large glass cases, on jointed, wooden mannequins made in Japan at the end of the 19th century, twelve complete suits of armour are displayed, a real parade of the basic yoroi types (16th-19th centuries), documenting the historical importance of the military caste during 700 years of history (1185-1868), as well as the extremely important influence of the samurai caste in commissioning articles of metalwork and stimulating the production of the related applied arts. Set in a long row, the twelve suits of armour echo the samurai processions (daimy_ gy_retsu) of the Edo Period.

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