Snowy view of Holland

Door Christopher Joby

Although the primary reason for the Dutch going to Japan from around 1600 onwards was to trade, they often brought gifts with them in order to endear themselves to local rulers including the shogun. Among the gifts they presented to Japanese were telescopes, clocks and peep-boxes. Peep-boxes were devices into which the viewer could peer and see different views that were on cards inserted in the box. Of particular interest is the fact that the pictures on the cards often gave the viewer a sense of the depth of a scene. This was a result of the use of single-point perspective, to which the Japanese were introduced in works of art imported by the Dutch (although earlier arrivals such as the Portuguese probably also brought such paintings to Japan).

In the late eighteenth century, there was a particular craze for all things Dutch including these peep-boxes. The above picture was used in such a device. In the Japanese inscription in the right-hand margin one can read Oranda yukimi no zu in kanji with a katakana gloss. Oranda, in fact derived from the Portuguese word for the country came to stand not just for Holland, but for things foreign in general.

The text means ‘Snowy View of Holland’. One can perhaps see a little snow in the picture, but it seems to owe more to somewhere in East or South-East Asia rather than the Low Countries.

Deze blogpost verscheen eerder bij The History of Dutch.

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