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Nicholas de Larmessin I (1632-94)

Xogun, Empereur du Iapon circa

Etching and engraving | 24.2 x 16.7 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 618824

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  • Xogun, Empereur du Iapon is probably a representation of Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641– 80). In 1651, at the age of ten, Ietsuna became the fourth Tokugawa shōgun, inheriting a well-established military government (bakufu). The text below the image makes reference to the arrival in Japan of the Portuguese 130 years earlier. As their encounter took place in 1543, this would date the print to around 1673, by which time access to Japan was forbidden to much of the outside world.

    Portraits of rulers were not as widespread in Japan as in Europe at this time. The shōgun himself was seen by very few people and, in his presence, visitors would have to look at the floor; it seems unlikely therefore that many Japanese, let alone any foreigners, would have seen a realistic depiction of Ietsuna. It is not surprising then that this print appears to be an imagined portrait: the shōgun wears a turban more identifiable with dress from the Middle East, adorned with luxurious pearl jewellery topped with feathers, his shoulders wrapped in a cloak. The dress and ornaments are probably borrowed from costume books and prints of rulers of other ‘exotic’ and distant lands.

    The format of this half-length portrait, set within an oval frame, is typical of portrait prints of the reign of Louis XIV (r. 1643 –1715)45 and is one of a series of at least 240 portraits issued by the Parisian publisher Pierre Bertrand. The accompanying text is intended to provide an informative description of Japan, yet the title of the print conflates the two separate roles of the shōgun, based in Edo (Tokyo), and the emperor of Japan, based in Kyoto, highlighting a lack of understanding of this inaccessible place.

    Text adapted from Japan: Courts and Culture (2020)


    Possibly acquired by George III

  • Medium and techniques

    Etching and engraving


    24.2 x 16.7 cm (sheet of paper)

    23.6 x 16.6 cm (platemark)

  • Category
    Object type(s)