Iconographic Ambiguities: Artist’s Whims and Stellar Mist
(Hokusai’s rendering of star gods in Hokusai Manga)
The subject of my paper is polymorphic iconography of celestial beings as depicted in popular picture-books in Tokugawa epoch. In the center of this talk is a group of Japanese divinities of Chinese origin (Buddhist and Daoist), who represent various star gods and embodiments of whole constellations, from the Polar Star to Canopus to the Ursa Magna. In Japanese popular beliefs and sectarian ritual practices these personages became in charge of multiple duties, sometimes quite dissimilar with their continental prototypes. Some of them bear variable iconographic features, which differ from each other when represented by different artists.
As a material for the case study, the images from Hokusai Manga (seen against the backdrop of other representations) are chosen. Among the figures analyzed there will be:
Bunsho-teikun (Ch. Wenchang-dijun), a constellation near the Big Dipper;
Jurojin (a version of Shouxing or the Old Man of the South Pole);
Kaisei (Ch. Kuixing), a star in the Big Dipper;
Kakushigi (Ch. Guo Ziyi) a Christian himself, deified as one of Three Stars (sanxing);
Tobosaku (Ch. Dongfang Shuo), a posthumous personification of the Gold Star (Venus), and others.
The close reading of iconographic attributes of these divinities as depicted by Hokusai, a worshipper of the Polar Star himself (and the bearer of its name – Hoku[to]sai 北[斗]斎 ) will elucidate their polyvalent characters and the process of their adaptation in Japan.
Besides anthropomorphic or mixanthropic images, there are examples of schematic representations of various constellations in Hokusai Manga. The discussion of the panoply of their religious attributes makes another facet of this paper.