Cultural Heritage Imaging

Japanese woodblock prints and RTI by marlinlum

By Guest Blogger:

Susan Grinols, FAMSF, Director of Photo Services and Imaging

You wouldn’t necessarily think you needed anything but your own eyes to appreciate the details of a Japanese woodblock print. After all, how much texture is there in a thin piece of paper? It turns out – quite a bit. While working with CHI on the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Grant we proved to ourselves that RTI is adept at revealing hidden textures in these artworks. We did this by photographing one of our Hirosada woodblock prints:

Konishi Hirosada woodblock print

Konishi Hirosada woodblock print

  • Konishi Hirosada, Japanese active 1819-1864
  • The Osaka Actor Mimasu Daigorō IV as Kan Shōjō in the Play “Sugawara denju tenarai kagami” at the Naka Theater
  • 1851
  • Color woodcut with metallic pigments, “lacquer,” and embossing
  • Image: 24.5 x 18.8 cm (9 5/8 x 7 3/8 in.)
  • Museum purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund, 1976.1.359

We were amazed to see that the woodblock carver accentuated the actor’s expression in this print through embossing. He also produced subtle and not so subtle textures in the actor’s kimono. These details really come out with RTI.

Konishi Hirosada Woodblock print

Normal / Specular viewing

When exhibiting our prints we frame them behind plexiglas and limit their exposure to damaging light by keeping the light levels low. This combination sometimes makes it difficult for people to see all of the artwork’s subtle textures.

To give our visitors a richer experience of the Hirosada print we decided to include its PTM in the galleries while the artwork was on display in our exhibition Japanesque.

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get the RTI viewer onto a kiosk before Japanesque’s opening so we decided to make a movie of the Hirosada PTM using Screen Flow and iMovie. BTW, a BIG THANK YOU goes out to the CHI team for the beautiful imagery we used in the movie, and also to Michael Ashley for his technical movie making expertise, and to Mark Mudge and Carla Schroer for their help in writing the gallery label.

The end result is a short movie with detailed imagery of the artwork. The best part is that the movie is being displayed on a 46” flat panel screen with the artwork hung close by, making it convenient for our visitors to compare the RTI results with the actual artwork.

Woodblock prints are the result of collaboration between the artist, the carver and the printer. Using RTI technology, our visitors are able to get a real appreciation for their artistry.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What a fascinating post. We’re big fans of Hirosada, so great to see him in a new light, as it were!

Comment by toshidama

Went and saw the exhibition today. Very cool to see this up in the gallery! Lots of folks were watching the videos (23 minute documentary on Japanese wood block printmaking followed by 4 1/2 minute RTI video. Almost everyone who watched the RTI video went over to the Hirosada print (hanging next to the video monitor) and looked at it up close trying to see all the details. It was great to see this reaction! I watched through 2 cycles.

Comment by Carla Schroer


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