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能 樂 圖 繪 Nōgaku zue

It is believed that Frederick Mortimer Clapp, first Chair of the History of Art Department at the University of Pittsburgh, purchased this rare five volume set c. 1926-28 with funds donated by Helen Clay Frick. This acquisition would have supplemented the department’s initial curriculum which included the History of Oriental Art (see Martha Frick Symington Sanger, Helen Clay Frick: Bittersweet Heiress, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008, 157-163.)

The overall sensibility of this work is elegant and refined, suggestive of elite patronage and social prestige. Nōgaku zue seems designed for the connoisseur of noh, who may have collected not only images of the plays, but also accoutrements such as masks, fans, props, and costumes; some illustrations are devoted to the display of these objects. These collectors would recognize the attributes of familiar characters, and enjoy identifying many plays without having to read the text. They could refine their experience, however, by reading the descriptions of the plays and reciting the poetic quotations included in many illustrations. Because noh plays were traditionally performed for persons of title and rank, the very presentation of the plays in pictorial form intended to flatter the book’s owner, who presupposed his identification with the historically noble patrons of noh.

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  • Artist
  • Publication Information
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About the volumes

Each of the five volumes of Nōgaku zue is comprised of prints depicting Japanese noh plays and kyōgen plays, including about 50 plays per volume, or about 250 plays in the complete set (some prints are not about specific plays but include images of props or costumes). The five volumes are numbered according to their designation on the covers, translated numerically as: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 3.0. This enumeration also conforms to the catalog of the Library of Congress.

The organization of contents by volume appears to be motivated by the popularity of play, and not according to customary categories of noh. The kyōgen plays, when included, follow at the end of a volume’s sequence (vol. 1.2 does not include kyōgen plays). Many prints appear paired for thematic reasons, such as Tenko/Fuji Daiko (both about drums), or Kureha/Taema (both about weaving). The kyōgen illustrations are accompanied by sparer text than that devoted to noh plays. Unlike noh, kyōgen plays are passed down orally from one generation to the next and do not have a significant literary tradition.

Professor Michael Watson at Meiji Gakuin University has created an alphabetical index of noh plays and kyōgen plays, including information about translations. Professor Watson’s website is relied on here as an accessible authority file for the titles of the plays, their Romanized spellings, and for the play categories. For a collection of noh plot summaries, see P. G. O’Neill, A Guide to Nō, Tokyo, Hinoki Shoten, 1990. For kyōgen plot summaries, see Don Kenny, A Guide to Kyōgen, Tokyo, Hinoki Shoten, 1990.


The prints of Nōgaku zue are multi-color, multi-block woodblock prints on heavy kōzo paper, 52-53 prints per volume in five volumes, for a total 261 prints. The images are full-page, horizontal in orientation, and framed by a simple black outline that measures about 230 x 335 mm. Pigments are water-based embellished with gold and silver mica highlights. The background is sometimes shaded by a thin wash, and the printing technique remarkably resembles that of hand-painted water color. The registration of the individual woodblocks is rarely but sometimes perceptible, as each color was printed from a separate block. The visual field is a double-page opening (e.g. leaves 4B and 5A), comprising two facing prints that often reveal evidence of coordinated artistic or subject-related choices.

The subjects are inspired by Japanese noh plays in performance. Some images include contextual details such as the architecture of the noh stage, the actors preparing backstage, or the spectators in the audience. Other images are more thematic and emphasize important props, attributes of the characters, symbolic decorative motifs, or excerpts of poetic texts printed as if written in elegant script. The artist employs various formal approaches to create these effects, including trompe l'oeuil details of papers curling to reveal other "pages" in the book, or split-screen views of multiple scenes.

All texts are in Japanese in several lettering sizes, styles and inks. The series title is repeated as a header in the upper margin of each print. The publisher information is provided in left lateral margin of each print but visible only on A-side prints because of the overlapping seam at the center fold. The publisher text is printed in a light grey ink, perhaps used to avoid bleeding through overlapping seam at the center.

The text accompanying each image runs vertically in the right margin of each print; thus the text accompanying each A-side (left) print runs down the center of the opening. The visibility of this text depends on the absence of a sewn “gutter” (the book lies flat when opened). This center text would be damaged or lost by cutting the prints apart at the center fold, as evidenced in some single prints available on the market, apparently excised from bound albums. Many prints include additional texts within the frame of the image; these texts are usually poems quoted from the noh play that is the subject of the print.


All five volumes are very fine, complete, and all original. The outer chitsu is also original but worn and torn at seams, including one significant tear that needs restoration. Most of the prints are perfectly preserved, although some show signs of offset discoloration from contact with the print on the opposite leaf.


Each volume of Nōgaku zue is covered in original blue silk over lightweight boards, including a front and back cover, each cover measuring 243 x 360 mm. The front cover is marked by a title and designates the volume order. The inside covers are lined with paper pastedowns flecked with gold; the outside edges of the leaves are also gilt. All five albums are stored stacked upon one another and wrapped together in a beige silk chitsu, which opens from the top and closes with ivory fasteners. There are prints from this series in the trade that apparently were never bound. There are also sets bound in different styles of binding, reflecting custom binding by craftsmen other than the publisher.


The paper used is of large oban format (oban = full sheet 243 x 372 mm); a full page measures 243 x 363 mm. The orientation is horizontal, and the double-page opening measures 243 x 726 mm. The cover opens in reverse compared to European codices and the reader moves through the contents right to left. The leaves include no foliation but for cataloging purposes they are foliated (numbered by leaves): 4A = Folio 4, print to the left of the center fold (western verso), and 4B = Folio 4, print to the right of the center fold (western recto). Any given print can be located in the series according to this system: 2.2:04A = Vol. 2.2, fol. 04A. Each volume includes 28 folios, 14 on the front side and 14 on the back side. The reader continues past the closing of the back cover; when the back cover is face-up, the reader opens it as if it were a second front cover, and proceeds through the second half of the book, moving right to left.


The orihon construction of each volume resembles a zig-zag, simulating a traditional folding scroll (see Figure 1). But instead of one continuous piece of folded silk or paper, each volume consists of two long strips of heavy kōzo (mulberry bark) paper (chain lines and laid lines apparent), each strip formed by gluing the prints together lengthwise. The resulting paper “scroll” is actually in two layers, folded accordion style and attached to each other at the folds.

There are two styles of seams to support this construction. Seams at the center/inside folds overlap, resulting in the masking of the publication information of all prints on the right (B-side) of the opening. The seams at the outer folds are glued flush (back-to-back) and do not overlap. The seams from the front layer prints are glued to the seam of the back layer prints, inside-seam to outside-seam at each fold, so that the weaker (flush) outside-seams are supported by the stronger (overlapping) inside-seams. The construction indicates that each print was printed separately then joined together to form the book.

About the Artist

Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927), born Hanyū Bennosuke, in Tokyo, used the surname Sakamaki (his mother’s maiden name) to sign Nōgaku zue (volume 1.1, folio 02A). Tsukioka, the name by which he is best known, became his surname later in life, after the death of his stepfather, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. Tsukioka, Kōgyo is the name used for the authorized heading of the artist’s authority record at the Library of Congress:

“Kōgyo” is the signature found on most of his prints: 耕漁.

Kōgyo also used a wide variety of seals to complement his signature. These seals have been identified and cataloged by Sachie Kobayasi of the University of Pittsburgh’s East Asian Library.

See Biography page for more information.


Although the scholarship concerning this artist has been sparse, Robert Schaap and J. Thomas Rimer have recently published, The Beauty of Silence: Japanese Nō and Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo, 1869-1927 (Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2010). The most significant study of Nōgaku zue is an exhibition catalog produced by the Mizuta Museum of Art, Tsukioka Kōgyo, A Modern Painter of Noh, Chiba-ken, Japan, Josai International University, 2005 (Herbert Plutschow, translator, but the catalog is mostly in Japanese). This reference was an indispensable guide for documenting and describing the Nōgaku zue at the University of Pittsburgh. Mizuta catalog numbers are provided here for each print, and an asterix (*) after any data indicates a difference found between the Pittsburgh set of prints and those described in the Mizuta catalog.

Kōgyo produced several important series of prints on noh theatre, including Nōgaku zue (Illustrations of Noh), Nōgaku hyakuban (One Hundred Prints of Noh), and Nōga taikan (A Great Collection of Noh Pictures). The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College owns a complete set of Nōgaku hyakuban that is posted online and includes many of the same subjects as Nōgaku zue. When applicable, the catalog information for the University of Pittsburgh print includes the link to the related print at Scripps.


Daikokuya, Tokyo. Owned by Matsuki Heikichi, member of a publishing family formerly of the samurai class. See, Charlotte Rappard-Boon, The Age of Yoshitoshi, Catalogue of the Collection of Japanese Prints Part V, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1990, 6-10. The publisher’s information is provided in the left lateral margin of each print. There is no text or printer’s colophon at the end of any volume, suggesting that the prints were sold unbound and perhaps individually as well as in sets. The illustrated Tables of Contents for each volume indicates that the publisher and artist conceived the prints as belonging to an established series.


In Nōgaku zue two dates are given with the publisher information, represent the printing date and the issue date, the latter which usually follows the earlier date by five or ten days. The dates provided for the University of Pittsburgh Nōgaku zue are the issue dates, conforming to the practice in Mizuta catalog and to the Library of Congress guidelines (Isamu Tsuchitani, “Descriptive Cataloging Guidelines for Pre-Meiji Japanese Books,” 01 Sept 2007, Library of Congress (pdf).

Bound Editions

Bound editions of Nōgaku zue are extremely rare. The collections that own at least one bound volume include:

  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (complete set)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (complete set)
  • University of California, Berkeley (2 sets: four volumes, 1.1-2.2; three volumes., bound fukurotoji style)
  • University of Michigan (1 vol. with 75 illustrations)
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (vol. 2.1)
  • Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo (complete set)
  • National Noh Theatre of Japan, Tokyo (complete set)
  • Hosei Daigaku—Noh Study Research Center (complete set, plus vols. 1.1 & 1.2)
  • Mizuta Museum, Josai University, Chiba-ken, Japan (complete set)
  • National Museum, Prague (vols. 1.1 and 2.2)

Individual Prints

Significant collections of individual prints by Kōgyo include:

  • Art Institute of Chicago (385 prints, various subjects)
  • The British Museum (57 prints, Nōgaku zue)
  • Los Angeles County Museum (67 prints, various subjects)
  • Scripps College (complete series, Nōgaku hyakuban, and various others)
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (22 prints, 3 drawings, various subjects)
  • Smithsoniam Museum, Freer and Sackler Galleries (300 prints, various subjects)

The prints at the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, Los Angeles County, Scripps College, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston are accessible online. The University of Pittsburgh is presently the only institution with online access to a complete bound set of Nōgaku zue.

Reputable art dealers with significant collections include Shogun Gallery in Washington, D.C. and John Adams Japanese Prints in Santa Rosa, CA. Shogun Gallery has produced a catalog with black and white illustrations of most but not all prints from Nōgaku zue: [Toni L. Hunter], Noh Theatre Prints By Kōgyo, (Washington, D.C.: Shogun Gallery), 1981. Artelino, an auction house in Icking, Germany, specializes in Asian art; their website includes a database archive of Japanese prints including many by Kōgyo.

Debra Taylor Cashion, PhD - University of Pittsburgh - School of Information Science

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Video of Nōgaku zue
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