Edoardo Chiossone (Arenzano 1833 - Tōkyō 1898), professor of drawing and engraving who graduated from the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts of Genoa, moved to Japan at the invitation of the Imperial Government of Japan, where he was offered a contract as special instructor and responsible for the engraving division of the new Officina Carte e Valori of the Ministry of Finance (Ōkurashō Insatsu Kyoku). During about 24 years in Japan (1875-1898), Chiossone drew and engraved about 500 plates relating to stamps and banknotes, monopoly stamps, bonds and government securities. He is widely credited with having shaped the modern era imagery of Japanese public finances. Also, Chiossone created the official Western-style portraits for political and diplomatic use and helped found a renewed conception of the Japanese cultural heritage and its visual representation.
His important position within the state apparatus brought about new first-rate acquaintances, friendships and cultural relations. From the beginning of his stay, his extensive and profound knowledge of and experience in the artistic and historical field sparked his great interest in Japanese art, abounding on the antique market at a time of great economic and socio-political changes.
All areas of the visual and decorative arts are covered in the collections formed by Edoardo Chiossone, who bequested them to the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts in Genoa (where he had received his artistic and cultural education) so that they could be exhibited for the public.
Having experienced Japan in the most earnest and fruitful formative period of the imperial Meiji Restoration (1868–1912), Chiossone was one of the architects of modernisation, contributing to the internationalisation of Japanese culture. The Genoese engraver was awarded two Imperial Orders of Merit: the Rising Sun (Kyokujitsushō fourth class in 1880) and the Sacred Treasure (Zuihōshō third class in 1891).
The Chiossone collections and their history
A significant event in the international environment of 19th-century Japanese art collectors, the Chiossone collections were formed in Japan by a single man over an uninterrupted period of 24 years (1875–1898), which coincided with the crucial and fervent period of modernisation. Never dismembered or separated, this important treasure includes paintings, polychrome prints and illustrated books, Buddhist sculptures and liturgical ornaments, archaeological objects, bronzes, coins, lacquers, porcelains, enamels, theatrical masks, armours and weapons, musical instruments, costumes and textiles, and clothing accessories.
The paintings, prints, lacquers, fabrics and wooden sculptures are displayed in rotating exhibitions, under the principles of preventive preservation.
The history of the Museum, from 1898 to date, comprises four phases.
Sent to Genoa after the death of Edoardo Chiossone (11 April 1898), the collections were rearranged and set up by Alfredo Luxoro (1859-1918) on the third floor of the Palazzo of the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts. On 30 October 1905, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III inaugurated the Museum of Japanese Art “Edoardo Chiossone”, which remained in that seat until 1942. Following the outbreak of World War II, the entire collection was packed and evacuated at the expense and by the Municipality of Genoa, which, by virtue of a testamentary clause, became its owner after the war.
In compliance with testamentary conditions, in 1948 the Municipality of Genoa decided on the design and construction of a special building, to be allocated as the stable and permanent seat of the Museum. This makes the Chiossone the first Italian museum specially approved of and built in the postwar period under the supervision of and with funding from a public administration. The construction area was located on the site of the neoclassical villa of Marquis Gian Carlo Di Negro (1769-1857) within the park of the same name, which had been destroyed during the Anglo-American naval bombardment of 1942. The park was created in the early 19th century by Marquis Di Negro, who reconverted to his home a bastion of the 16th-century walls of Santa Caterina. With the intention of attributing to that place a remarkable intellectual aura and exquisite character of “peaceful sanctuary of the Muses” worthy of fervent praises by Alizeri, in the first half of the 19th century, Di Negro implemented a programme of intellectual and literary patronage in his villa extended to the entire Europe.
Designed by architect Mario Labò (1884-1961), the construction phase began in 1953 and was completed in 1970. The location of the museum inside the park of the Villa Di Negro is really privileged. Nestled in the green garden that dominates the 19th-century Piazza Corvetto, the Chiossone Museum is located in the centre of Genoa, and yet offers a secluded and wonderfully scenic location. From the terraced walkway skirting the Museum on the south-west side, visitors can enjoy the view of the old town, with the expanse of grey slate roofs, steeples and medieval towers silhouetted on the blue background of the Ligurian Sea.
The building is an artefact of rationalist architecture: made of reinforced concrete with outer terracotta-tile cladding, it includes a jutting part with a roof terrace for the ticket office and bookshop, and a major body for the museum; the latter is a single magnificent space with a rectangular hall on the ground floor and six projecting galleries on the two long walls, connected by flights of stairs.
In 1967, the arrangement of the exhibition was entrusted to engineer Luciano Grossi Bianchi, in collaboration with Giuliano Frabetti, Director of the Chiossone Museum between 1956–1990, and Caterina Marcenaro (Genoa, 1906-1976), Director of the Sector Fine Arts of the Municipality of Genoa.
Inaugurated on 7 May 1971, and since then regularly open to the public, the museum has maintained the same construction until February 1998. The layout of 1971, accompanied by brief captions, consisted of a selection of works drawn from the different categories in the museum’s holdings, partially sorted by type, material and techniques. After Director Dr G. Frabetti retired in 1990, in November 1993 the direction of the museum was entrusted to the current manager, Dr Donatella Failla, who worked at the Chiossone Museum for more than 11 years as specialist appointed by the Museums of the Regione Liguria.
On the centenary of the death of Edoardo Chiossone on 11 April 1998, the permanent exhibition was completely renovated, to also include new didactic and descriptive devices. The new exhibition chronicles the main events of the history of Japan’s artistic culture and its relations with Continental East Asia: Antiquity, the advent and evolution of metallurgy, Buddhism, the samurai civilisation, and the development of decorative arts in the Edo period (1600-1868) are the main topics sorted by theme and technique, so as to highlight the disciplinary and aesthetic systems of the various arts against the wider historical and cultural background. Because of their great beauty and cultural and communicative effectiveness, the stands on the great Buddhist sculpture and armours (located in the main ground-floor hall and in the fifth-floor gallery, respectively) have remained virtually unchanged.
In 2001, thanks to the specific contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio Genova e Imperia, the two galleries on the upper floors have been refurbished and fitted with innovative installations, to house rotating temporary exhibitions of the museum’s treasure.
A museum with an international vocation: exhibitions, cultural and scientific activities, cataloguing and restoration
The Chiossone Museum and its collections provide great potential for the cultural growth and exchange between Genoa, Japan and the research environments on Japanese art and culture. Very popular and well known all over the world are the collections of paintings, polychrome prints and illustrated books of 17th-19th centuries, as well as lacquers, bronzes, porcelains.
In the past 16 years, the Direction of the Museum has developed close relations of cooperation and scientific and economic partnership with Japanese authorities, particularly with the Japan Foundation, the National Institute for Research on Cultural Heritage of Tōkyō and the Sumitomo Foundation, organising programs for the preservation and restoration of the museum’s holdings, which have yielded the restoration of more than 50 paintings and a valuable cabinet of lacquer and nacre since 1997.
In addition, in collaboration with the National Institute of Japanese Literature, the Hosei University and the Universities of Kyōto and Tōkyō, several research programs and specialised cataloguing of several sections of the collections are ongoing.
In addition to the numerous exhibitions in place, the Direction of the Museum has organised and produced exhibitions in other locations: an exhibition of lacquers (1996) and one of Ukiyoe paintings and prints (2005) at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa; a retrospective exhibition of Edoardo Chiossone - The Collector (1996) at the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome; and a touring exhibition of Ukiyoe paintings and prints in collaboration with the Giornale di Kōbe at five Japanese public museums (2001-2002).
Further, the Chiossone Museum frequently lends its pieces to significant exhibitions at the international level, both in Italy and abroad.
The Chiossone Museum organises cycles of cultural activities dedicated to Japan, including lectures and gallery talks, courses on tea ceremony (chanoyu) and flower arrangement (ikebana), parties for children, and classic Nō theatre performances.
The museum also hosts numerous musical activities and concerts, organised by the Associazione Amici del Carlo Felice e del Conservatorio “Nicolò Paganini”, as well as by the Fondazione Spinola.