09 December 2017

The lantern speaks silently

click photo for full-size image: Japanese temple lantern in Edinburgh at National Museum of Scotland (12/2017 photos)
 James Douglas Fletcher (d 1927) bought a matching pair of bronze lanterns from a Japanese temple in 1902 (Meiji 35) for his oriental garden on Black Island at Rosehaugh. Moving from the context of concept and creation in Buddhist Japan to recreational private garden stretches the range of meanings of the lanterns greatly. The fact that the ca. 1800-1850 artistic work was away from the natural and man-made calamities of the 20th century allowed this work to live on and speak to today's artists, Buddhists, and gardeners.
Meaning began with the wider context of traditions of lantern makers generally for temples. Some person or group made the decision to cast these, then artisan drafted the detail or was left to his own devices, then recipient of the piece chose a display location. For each generation of priest and parishioner the meaning may have shifted little by little. And for outsiders who were non-parishioners or non-Japanese altogether, then the meaning was simplified to surfaces and shapes alone. The context for creation, worship, and admiration fades away and instead the outsider sees just colors and lines.
Finally, even the transplanted meaning of private ownership on the opposite side of the planet gives way to museum acquisition and display near the entryway at street level. Going from the point of deciding upon a commission In Japan to today in the hallway of the national museum of Scotland is a vast leap, indeed.

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