A Frame Is a Kind of Torii Gate: Framing Another Shin Hanga Nocturne

Like the Kawase Hasui print in my last post, this is beautiful nocturne out of the shin hanga tradition. “Rainy Miyajima” (1941, 15-3/8″ x 10″), is a woodblock by shin hanga master Tsuchiya Koitsu (1870 – 1949) depicting the torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on Itsukushima Island (popularly known as Miyajima).

Because a frame is a bit of architecture, pictures of architecture generally suggest to the frame maker forms straightforwardly adaptable for his designs. This mortise and tenon frame that Trevor Davis built is a good example. Made in walnut, it has 1″ wide sides, while the top and bottom are just 3/4″ wide. But, as you can see, the top flares wider than that as it lifts and extends in imitation of the top of the gate. The top and bottom rails are slightly thicker than the sides, creating 1/16″ architectural reveals on the face of the frame at the joints. There is a 3/16″ pillow-shaped square plug at each joint. We finished the walnut with a black wash harmonizing it with the muted tones of the print.

Framed Koitsu print

Framed Koitsu printThe resemblance between a torii gate and a picture frame goes beyond the fact that they’re both works of architecture. Many architectural features and elements are liminal: they mark and facilitate transitions between different spaces and realms. Commoners at Miyajima would be required to approach the shrine by boat, passing through the shrine, and in so doing would understand they were passing from the mundane to the sacred realm—a liminal function of torii gates generally. Similarly, a picture frame marks off the picture’s realm—a realm that, if not necessarily considered sacred, represents things we deem most admirable and praiseworthy—from its everyday surroundings.


Learn more about Tsuchiya Koitsu at Koitsu.com.

Enjoy browsing a massive database of Japanese prints at ukiyo-e.org

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