"Money Makes the World Go Around: An Ancient Empress as Popular Icon of Japanese Modernity"
Melanie Trede Colloquium


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  • Host Department: History of Art
  • Date: 03/30/2012
  • Time: 4:00PM - 5:30PM

  • Location: 180 Tappan Hall, 855 S. University, Ann Arbor

  • Jingu-1-yen
  • Description: This paper investigates the modern reinterpretation of the Japanese pre-historic Empress Jingu through the lens of banknote designs.

    Since an eighth-century historical account, Jingu was represented in hagiographic as well as vernacular narratives, paintings and sculptures. She was interpreted as a goddess, mother of the martial deity Hachiman, and as the alleged conqueror of the Korean kingdoms. These features turned her into the archetype of Japanese colonial aspirations. To choose Empress Jingu as a motif for the new and ubiquitous medium of paper money during the formative years of the Japanese nation-state was therefore a highly political and ideological decision.

    The Japanese finance ministry ordered three different renderings of the empress to be designed between 1873 and 1881. However, none of her pre-modern characteristics appear overtly in any of the late nineteenth-century official, visual interpretations. Why would this be the case? What are the reasons for the shift from a narrative representation to an unfamiliar allegory, and finally to a bust portrait reminiscent of European regents? How could her Western-style image on the bills evoke her multi-faceted persona in the Japanese consumers?

    The radically modern renderings of Empress Jingu, and the debates surrounding their creation reveal negotiations of historical, political, and aesthetic boundaries between ancient and modern; ideological notions and realpolitik; Japan and its mainland neighbours; art and everyday media; and the balancing of Japanese versus Western modes of visual representation.

    Melanie Trede is professor of the histories of Japanese art at Heidelberg University, Germany. She is the 2011/12 Toyota Visiting Professor (Center for Japanese Studies) at the University of Michigan.

    Her research during her tenure in Ann Arbor focuses on the political iconography of the influential Hachiman legend. This controversial narrative and archetype of colonial aspirations dating to the eighth century was retold and pictorialized in a variety of media through the twentieth century. It relates to the protective deity of warriors and the emperor in Japan while celebrating an alleged pre-historic conquest of the Korean peninsula.

    Trede engages methodologies developed by historians, such as a re-visited concept of the longue durée and looks at the religious, historical and aesthetic ruptures in reinventing the narrative in visual forms through five centuries. Questions of local as well as institutional power of sacred centers vis-à-vis shogunal authority, as well as anthropological approaches that include the social and aesthetic life of objects, inform her research. Problems associated with the materiality of pictorial narratives are addressed, among them the fragmentation of handscrolls and their aesthetic implications, as well as the choice of script types in connection with the ritual use of scrolls. Trede reflects on historiographic and disciplinary critiques of the changing value judgements in modern Japanese art history and the political revival of the legend during the restoration of the emperor in the 1870s and 1880s.

    For more, please visit: http://iko.uni-hd.de/institut/trede.html