Sōzan seals

Ito Sōzan has changed its signature little over time, while the seals varied several times for a total of 35 different seals plus 2 seals reporting a signature. The “classic” Sōzan seal is generally composed of two parts, which follow the kanji characters of the name Sōzan: 総 山 that we read “Sō” and “San”,  generally inserted in two squares placed vertically  one on the other. The upper part of the seal is composed of two symbols that  read Sō (The complete guide to Japanese Kanji, 2016, character 760 (SŌ), page 242). The lower part of the seal, on the other hand, always contains the character “SAN” or “ZAN” (yama, mountain, hills), a kind of Y upside down, repeated three times or single. (The complete guide to Japanese Kanji, 2016, character 26 (SAN), page 53).

Out of 120 Sōzan prints, only 10 are without seal and in some cases the seal is illegible due to the poor quality of the examined images. The most frequent seal is the number 1 with two overlapping squares and the tripled zan character (including variant 2 with the two parts of the SŌ character inverted) present in 26 prints. Following is the number 5 with 17 prints and then the number 3 with 6 prints.

The two squares with the single ZAN character are less frequent, of which only the seal 10 is present in 6 prints and seal 6 in 4.

In addition to the classic seals with two overlapping squares, we can find completely different seals, in a single oval, gourde, round or rectangular shape.

Seal 13 is present in 6 prints and seal 15 and 16 in 3 prints. Finally, there are 12 seals with two prints per seal and 19 with a single print.

A small group of seals deserving a separate discussion. They have a buffalo / bull lying on their subject. There are basically two variants: one with the animal seen from the front, with the head reclined, almost resting on the ground (two slightly different seals: 22 and 23; prints TA-06 and TA-34) and one with the animal seen from the back and with the head erect. (seal 21, print TA-40). In addition to Sōzan, I found these atypical seals only on the prints of another unknown artist (see chapter: Dubious prints).

Other seals have, to the left of the characters Sō and San, other characters that mean “seal of” (nr. 25, 26).

In the 28 works cited in the catalog of 1936, 9 different seals are used, reflecting the fact that it is not a homogeneous material from a temporal point of view, but mainly of remakes of previous prints.

As already mentioned, the first useful source of Sōzan’s works is the scrapebook dated 1910 reported by Marc Kahn in his site Shotei.com which illustrates 7 prints with their seals. We find 6 different seal models including an unusual model (seal 33) accompanied by a Watanabe seal.

Another “mystery” is represented by the Horse & Deer seal (馬鹿 印)(seal n. 34) present in “Crows in the snow” (Watanabe 1936 catalog #507 = WT-31) which is copied from Hiroshige’s famous work “Wild Goose & Full Moon (月 雁). What is the reason for this “copying” of the seal remains a mystery. I thank Toshikazu Doi for pointing out the identity of this seal.

I discovered two prints with an unusual heart-shaped seal last march. One, KO-18, “Beauty on boat under full moon“, with the seal clearly visible, is in my collection and comes from Jan Roewer (Germany). The other, KO-19, “Two-huntresses-walking-the-mountain-path”, has a less evident seal and is present in the collection of Patrick Yeh (USA). Both prints, although unsigned, have stylistic characteristics and same paper size attributable to Sozan.

Seals characters are clearly referable to Kanji  総山 (or 總山), wich is Sozan name. Furthermore, the KO-19 was found in a lot including some Shotei prints referable to 1910 because they are also present in Mark Kahn’s Scrapbook.   (http://shotei.com/publishers/watanabe/1910scrapbook/1910scrapbook.htm).

All these considerations, in agreement with Patrick Yeh, led me to include these prints in the Sozan list and to ascribe the hearth-seal as a new Sozan seal.


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