Saturday, 11 December 2010

Darwin on woodblock Printing

Some original thoughts on Evolution and Woodblock printing

This Japanese woodcut (which probably you never in your life would have seen otherwise) can be considered from several points of view, one of which is its unwitting role as an illustration of evolution, or rather co-evolution. (Double-click for a larger version).

A pair of vines climb up around the stem of a bamboo plant, which helps the vines to grow fruit that serves as food to a grateful bird. Each of the three organisms has an environmental niche enabled by the other two. For example the bamboo serves as a support to the vine enabling the latter to expand its trunk and extend its branches. The bird uses the grape as food and then returns the favour to the vine by kindly depositing the seeds of the grape elsewhere in a ready-made bed of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Bamboo is grown by humans for innumerable purposes such as bamboo shoots for food and bamboo stems as scaffolding for buildings. Conversely, vines that were less able to entwine themselves around the bamboo, or failed to grow big juicy grapes, failed in the struggle for life and are no longer with us, and the same is held to be true, mutatis mutandis, for bamboo and birds.

In fact there are several layers of competition going on here. The vines, the bamboo and the bird are competing with their respective rivals in the struggle for existence. Those depicted here have succeeded.

The work of the painter Ryūrikyō was carried out in such an "admirable manner" that K. Egawa made a woodcut of it – again "in an admirable manner", for he (or more likely the pressman T. Tamura) has added individual snow flakes in gouache: it is late in the season, the leaves are sere, the bird is getting cold and needs nourishment.

Besides:it makes a nice Christmas card too !

Woodcut by K. Egawa after a painting by Ryūrikyō, 18th century.

Condensed text from: Wellcome Library no. 730398i

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