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A rare, large photographic portrait of Matsuki Koan (1832-1893), who later adopted the name Terashima Munenori, a Japanese diplomat and "rangakusha" who visited The Netherlands as part of a diplomatic mission in the summer of 1862.


In the 1860s, Japan was in the process of transforming its feudal Tokugawa shogunate with its typical isolationist foreign policy ("sakoku") into a modern empire. As part of this process, Japan sent a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1862, led by Takenouchi Yasunori. Matsuki Koan was chosen to take part in this mission, which visited France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Portugal and Great Britain.


Matsuki was born in a town on the coast of the East China Sea and adopted at the age of five by his uncle Matsuki Muneyasu (Juan), who had studied in Nagasaki with the great Philipp Franz von Siebold. In Nagasaki, surrounded by scholars and scientists, Matsuki learned Dutch with the help of several interpreters employed at Dejima.


After his uncle's death in 1845, Matsuki received extensive training in rangaku, or Dutch studies, in Edo, the shogun's capital. In the years following his education, he worked as a teacher and translator, and even helped develop the first Japanese steamship. After the Meiji Restoration in 1867, he took on several political functions and became foreign minister in 1873.


On 1 July 1862, the Takenouchi embassy was officially received by King William III at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague. And on 30 June and 1 July all members of the embassy were portrayed by famed photographer Robert Heinrich Wilhelm Severin (1839-ca.1883), who had his studio at 109 Noordeinde, near the royal palace. Severin had asked William III for permission to use the royal coat of arms in early 1861. This permission was granted to him on 3 May 1861. From then on, Severin called himself "photographe du roi", indicating that he was the official purveyor to the court.


The portraits of the members of the embassy were compiled in an album that was presented to the king (now held at the Koninklijke Verzamelingen). And according to an advert in the newspaper Dagblad van Zuidholland en ‘s Gravenhage (8 July 1862) the photos were also for sale at Severin's studio:


"[…] de goed gelijkende Portretten der leden van het Japansch Gezantschap, in den vorm van Cartes de Visite en in groepen van grooter formaat, door hem naar de natuur vervaardigd, zijn verkrijgbaar bij R. Severin, Photograaf des Konings." ("... the accurate portraits of the members of the Japanese embassy, in the form of cartes de visite and in larger groups, made by him from nature, are available from R. Severin, Photographer to the King.")


We have found one other portrait of Matsuki by Severin: a carte-de-visite, of which one copy is held in the National Maritime Museum, Amsterdam (object ID S.0716(09)), and a second in the Koninklijke Verzamelingen. The latter is also pictured in Herinneringen aan Japan (1987), p. 231. Presumably, this is the portrait that was included in the album that was presented to King William III.


We have not been able to locate another copy of the present photograph. Large photographs by Severin are rare: his work mainly survives in ca. 100 portraits in carte-de-viste format.

Portrait of Japanese diplomat Matsuki Koan, made during a mission to Europe

€ 4.500,00Price
  • Robert Severin.

    [Photographic portrait of Japanese diplomat and rangakusha Matsuki Koan (Terashima Munenori)].

    The Hague, Robert Severin, [June or July 1862]. 

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