Once upon a time in Japan. 19th century photographs and netsuke

Milan, Poldi Pezzoli Museum , 11 May – 31 July 2017

The small but precious exhibition, which will be open from 11 May to 31 July, presents two different types of Japanese works of art, precisely, a selection of netsuke and okimonos from the Poldi Pezzoli Museum and some photographs, precisely albumen prints hand-coloured by period artists and collotype processed pictures. These items, which belong to the “Ada Ceschin and Rosanna Pilone” Foundation, Zurich, were granted for bailment to the Museum of Cultures, Lugano, in 2012.

Alongside a selection of netsuke (small traditional sculptures) from the Lanfranchi Collection, we find photographs provided by the Ada Ceschin and Rosanna Pilone Foundation. Produced by highly skilled Japanese craftsmen, they magnificently converse in terms of style and iconographic reproduction of the subjects portrayed. Produced in the Meiji period (1868-1912), they depict scenes of daily life and natural landscapes of an ancient and idyllic Japan that was brushed aside in a few decades by the frantic race towards modernisation.

In the Meiji period, Japan witnessed the unusual convergence of western photographic technique and masterly skills of local painters, the heirs of an ancient and refined tradition. The artistic outcome is surprisingly beautiful, and the subjects depicted look so real as to be compared with modern colour prints. These works were produced to meet the need of western travellers to take home a memento of an extraordinary country. Indeed, the photographs are mostly preserved in magnificent souvenir albums featuring lacquered covers inlaid with precious materials, two of which will be displayed at the exhibition.