[modernly supplied title]


hanashoubu ni tonbo

Japanese Iris and [Skimmer] Dragonfly


Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

128 Japanese Iris Theme
128 花菖蒲(ハナショウブ)画題

Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I (only edition): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal C

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.]

Series History and Definitions:
During the two years between mid 1933 and mid 1935 Rakusan produced a series of one hundred eighty individual woodblock-printed fan designs. These fan designs are printed as negative images with a single impression of black ink. Although all are actually woodblock prints, this traditional negative-image printing style is called 石摺(り), ishi-zuri, lit. 'stone rubbing', from its superficial resemblance to that technique. Rakusan called this series 篁子生石摺画選, Koushisei Ishizuri Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Stone-rubbing Print Selection', but it is usually called here the Fan Series.

Rakusan arranged the Fan Series prints into shared-subject groups typically consisting of one design in each of five different fan silhouette shapes. Each of these groups of Fan Series designs are united by a corresponding polychrome 36 Series design which defines the subject. Each shared-subject Fan Series group and its 36 Series design together comprise a theme (画題, gadai).

Rakusan did not include the Fan Series in his main sequence numbering. Therefore, the original number used for each of the 36 Series prints has been modified to identify the Fan Series members of its theme. The five different fan silhouette shapes have been here assigned arbitrary numbers 1 through 5. To indicate a fan design these shape designations are added to the 36 Series number separated by a hyphen. 128-1 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 1 in the 128 Japanese Iris theme. Like all other designs in this series, 128-1 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
The 128 Japanese Iris theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. The Fan Series prints of the 128 Japanese Iris theme were distributed in early 1935 in installment ten (of twelve), but the delivery documents for installment ten remain to be discovered. The series as originally announced would have seen this installment published in October 1934. However, with documented delays the earliest month it could actually have been delivered is January 1935, and it may well have been even further delayed. The woodblock prints would have been printed during the same month as their distribution.

All five of the Fan Series designs in the 128 Japanese Iris theme (including 128-1) have seal C which indicates a carving date in the period between late 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. Despite the early completion of those wooden blocks, Rakusan delayed printing and distribution of the prints in this theme until the following year. Publication of the 128 Japanese Iris theme was combined with two other spring season themes nearer to the end of the series. The 36 Series design 128 has seal B which indicates a later carving period closer to the time of publication.

128 is the second of two iris themes in the 36 Series. Much earlier in the series Rakusan created the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme which is irregular in its arrangement. The 128 Japanese Iris theme represents a separate, subsequent, addition to the series which is entirely distinct from the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme.

At least some of the designs in both iris themes were adapted from iris sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of the earlier 100 Series. The 128 Japanese Iris theme is related to design 47, and the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme to designs 23alt and 23 (see below).

The complicated composition of 128-1 is based around a clump of iris with an open flower and two buds. Hanging underneath the left-most leaf is a small skimmer dragonfly. All of the fan prints in the 128 Japanese Iris theme are rendered as detailed line drawings with many interior lines within the leaves and petals. This technique works equally well as ishizuri or reversed.

The woodblock print of 128-1 was modeled closely on an actual-size original sumi sketch which although lost can be reconstructed by digitally reversing the image of the woodblock print:

128-1 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

Species Illustrated:
Japanese Iris, Iris ensata var. ensata, 花菖蒲, はなしょうぶ, ハナショウブ, hana-shoubu, is a wetlands iris native to Japan. Japanese iris has been bred into numerous garden forms which are grown in temperate zones throughout the world. There are many Japanese names for kinds of iris, and considerable hybridizing and selection have linked the original individual species into a complex continuum. The iris in the 128 Japanese Iris theme appear most similar to those in 102, 23alt, and 23.

The general name for all dragonflies is 蜻蛉, とんぼ, トンボ, tonbo, 'dragonfly'. This name is also used in a technical sense for members of the huge, cosmopolitan family Libellulidae which are often called skimmers in English. The only dragonflies Rakusan includes in any of his woodblock print designs are medium-sized skimmer dragonflies. Many Japanese species of skimmer dragonfly have transparent wings with a small rice-grain-shaped dark spot on the leading edge of each wing near the outer end. This feature can be seen in all of the Rakusan woodblock print images of dragonflies.

Several kinds of skimmer dragonflies in the genus Sympetrum (also called darters in English) have males with red bodies and therefore are informally known as 茜(蜻蛉), あかね(とんぼ), アカネ(トンボ), akane (tonbo), lit. 'madder-red (dragonfly)'; or 赤蜻蛉, あかとんぼ, アカトンボ, aka-tonbo, lit. 'red dragonfly'. However, although the bodies of the red darter males are solid red, the bodies of the females (and those of many other skimmers) are yellow with brown or black stripes, bands, or other markings.

The only secure identification of a Rakusan dragonfly species is a red darter dragonfly illustrated in the 36 Series design 113. This species, Sympetrum baccha matutinum, lacks a common name in English. Its Japanese name is 小熨斗目蜻蛉, このしめとんぼ, コノシメトンボ, ko noshime-tonbo, lit. 'small noshime dragonfly'. (A noshime is a kind of ceremonial dress.) It differs from the other red darters in having a dark red-brown or black patch covering the entire outer end of each transparent wing (instead of just the small spot). However, presumably for easier printing, Rakusan took artistic license in depicting this species in 113. He used the same magenta reds which predominate in the cockscomb flowers for the dragonfly bodies (making them appear male), and also for the large wing tip patches. As a result, the small dark spot which would in life have merged with the darker wing tip patches is still visible.

In addition to the dragonfly in the 36 Series design 113, two Fan Series designs in the 113 Cockscomb theme also include skimmer dragonflies. However, neither these two (nor any other Rakusan dragonflies) can be the same species as in 113. Other identification is largely speculative. There are five other skimmer dragonflies which occur in monochrome fan designs; so only the patterns (if any) are available for identification. 113-2 and 133-5 are simple line drawings which lack further diagnostic details. 113-4 and 106-4 have markings on the body that suggest those skimmers are female, and the solid color body in 128-1 suggests a male. All of these other examples could be any of several closely similar skimmer species. One representative red darter candidate would likely have appealed to Rakusan since it is a common endemic, Autumn Darter, Sympetrum frequens, 秋茜, アキアカネ, aki akane, lit. 'autumn madder-red'. Another possibility would be a skimmer species in the genus Orthetrum such as Common (White-tailed) Skimmer, Orthetrum albistylum speciosum, 塩辛蜻蛉, シオカラトンボ, shiokara tonbo, lit. 'salt-spicy dragonfly'.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 128 Japanese Iris theme:
128-2 128-3 128-4 128-5 128

Other designs with Japanese iris:

Other designs with different kinds of iris:
102-1A 102-1B 102-4 102-5 102
23alt 23 46alt 46

Other designs with dragonflies:
106-4 113-2 113-4 113 133-5