Japanese Scrolls Digitized

The Princeton University Digital Library has digitized three illustrated Japanese scrolls dating from the seventeenth century (C0744.08, Garrett Japanese Manuscripts, no. 1). The set of scrolls contain an anonymous story about the Sagami River, with 18 magnificent illustrations. The scrolls appear to have been produced in Kyoto in the 1660s, most likely commissioned by a warlord of the Daimyo class. The calligrapher was probably Asakura Jūken (fl. ca. 1660-80), of Kyoto. Japanese block-printed books served as models for the paintings. The narrative begins with the building of a bridge across the Sagami River, in the prefectures of Kanagawa and Yamanashi on Honshu, the main island of Japan. The scrolls include scenes from the Heike period of the 12th-century, featuring Yoshitsune, Yoritomo, Kajiwara, and the Battle of Ichinotani (1184). Each roll is made up of a series of paper sheets, 3-feet wide. On the back of the scrolls one can see the 17th-century Japanese silk covering at the beginning and gold decoration of the paper over the length of the scroll. The scrolls are in a contemporary black-lacquer box and are individually wound around spindles with lathe-turned ivory ends. Professor Ishikawa Tōru, Keio University, examined the scrolls and provided additional information about their production.

The scrolls are now online in the Princeton University Digital Library, as part of “Treasures of the Manuscripts Division”: http://pudl.princeton.edu/objects/3484zj30s The scrolls benefit from software designed for increased speed and zoom capacity for displaying large tiled images and creating a “slippy” deep-zoom experience in web browsers. Access to the original is restricted for conservation reasons. The scrolls came to the Princeton University Library in 1942 as part of the collection of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. He probably acquired the Japanese scrolls from a British antiquarian dealer in the 1920s, who provided a detailed description, now accompanying the digitized scrolls in the Princeton University Digital Library. Garrett had only one other Japanese manuscript, a near-contemporary Sanjūrokkasen album of ca. 1660 in a concertina binding. This ca. 1660 album contains 36 portraits of Japanese poets, each accompanied by one of their poems: C0744.08 (Garrett Japanese Manuscripts, no. 2).

After graduating from Princeton in 1897, Garrett returned home to Baltimore, became a Princeton trustee in 1905, and embarked on a half century of manuscript collecting. The high point of his extraordinary collecting life was the 1920s, followed by years of less activity during and after the Great Depression. Garrett acquired many manuscripts at the major auction houses, from leading European and American antiquarian dealers, and by private purchase. Garrett’s goal was to acquire representative examples of every known script and language in order to illustrate five millennia of the history of writing. Robert Garrett began collecting in the 1890s, guided to some extent by the scope of Joseph Balthazar Silvestre, Universal Paleography; or, Facsimiles of Writing of All Nations and Periods, Accompanied by an Historical and Descriptive Text and Introduction by Champollion-Figeac and Aimé Champollion; translated from the French, and edited, with corrections and notes by Frederic Maddan (London: H. G. Bohn, 1849), 2 vols. Garrett would recall a half century later, “I was really off on my manuscript journey, determined to find examples of as many of the scripts illustrated in that publication as possible. I was not able to do the job systematically nor completely but by the time my efforts ended I had something like thirty-five different scripts, and naturally many more than that number of languages.”

For more information about the Garrett Collection and “Treasures of the Manuscripts Division,” contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, at dcskemer@princeton.edu

Japanese scroll detail for blogpost