Japanese katagami

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Four antique Japanese katagami

Unknown artist

Edo period – Early 19th century

60 x 60 cm.


Katagami has been an important part of Japan’s material culture for almost 500 years. Katagami  stencils were used to pattern textiles in a technique called katazome. This delicate dye-resist technique traditionally involves applying rice paste through a stencil onto silk, followed by an exacting procedure of multiple stencil realignments and paste applications in order to continue the yardage’s pattern. The material is then dyed, sometimes repeatedly to develop the final result. The paste is then removed to reveal exquisite voided patterns.

The stencil’s highly detailed cut-outs result in large areas of negative space. The precise cut-outs are supported by an equally fine, though less visible, silk thread grid that stabilizes each of the tiny paper components.

The stencil-making process involves first curing numerous thin sheets of mulberry bark in persimmon tannin. After arranging a small stack of cured papers and drawing the pattern on the surface sheet, all layers are cut with a sharp, curved blade.

Next, the silk support grid is imbedded in between layers and the excess threads are trimmed. The end result is a stencil of unparalleled sharpness supported by a fine silk grid that does not impede the application of rice paste.

Katagami stencils  produced in Japan before the third quarter of the nineteenth century  frequently used human hair support grids instead of silk. Silk was discovered to not only be less invasive in the dye application and easier to manage, but it was less likely to warp during frequent use. In the 1870s,  by resting paper cut-outs on a silk grid stretched around a wooden  frame, the French used Japanese techniques to devise an early version of what is known today as the silk screen.

The majority of stencils surviving today are from the late Edo and Meiji periods, about 1789 to 1912, the golden era of stencil production.

Ironically, it is primarily the work of the stencil carver rather than the dyer which has survived to give us a record of popular textiles.



PierGabriele Vangelli Gallery


PierGabriele Vangelli Gallery

Head of Menelaus

Between 1700 and 1800

Watercolor on paper

In Greek mythology, Menelaus (Ancient Greek: Μενέλαος, Menelaos) was a king of Mycenaean (pre-Dorian) Sparta, the husband of Helen of Troy, and a central figure in the Trojan War. Prominent in both the Iliad and Odyssey, Menelaus was also popular in Greek vase painting and Greek tragedy.



One of the two Dioscuri placed on the Quirinale Hill in Rome

Pencil and ink drawing on paper

Unknown artist from the late 18th century

Framed in ebony wood by John Henning (1771–1851) in 1819 in London with a plaster reproduction of part of the Parthenon frieze.
Hennings was known for the remarkable one twentieth scale models he created of the Parthenon and Bassae frieze.

Trompe l’oeil

PierGabriele Vangelli Gallery
PierGabriele Vangelli Gallery

Amadis Aldano Maldo (de Aldano Maldo) known as Maldonado (o Maldonato) d’Aldana, (known to be in Florence between 1759 and 1800)
Signed on the bottom right.

Trompe l’oeil o “Inganno” con incisioni, 1798 ca.

Tempera on paper, cm. 56 x 40

Inscriptions: (on the engrainving of the hunting scene) Le Major d’Aldana Maldonado d’et f.t (signiture of the artist); (on the etching by Mitelli) Se un cieco guida l’altro cieco, ambedue cascano nella fossa; (on the engraiving of the panoramic view) Benedi(…); (on the engrainving by Montagu) (…). Maria Maggiore / Montagu scul.; (on the etching by Lasinio) Orazio Nelson / Contro Ammiraglio della Squadra Blu, / e Cav.re dell’Insigne Ordine del Bagno; (on the etching by Piranesi) (…) di Nerone Druso con gl’aquedotti di Caracalla; (on the small note within the “meander” or Greek fret) M.sa M.ra Settimmia Strozzi / Vedova Ferroni /  Montughi; (on the etching by Crespi) Vai ad uso di Soma, e de tuoi pari, / Non sai che ve ne son si tanti in Corte, / Che potrian caricar cento somari?

The inscription on the bottom left, on the only partially visible sheet of engraving depicting a hunting scene, allows us to state that this work is by Amadis of Maldonado Aldana, painter and etcher active in Florence in the last quarter of eighteenth century. Descendant of Antonio, who came in 1540 from Andalusia as Hofmeister (house-tutor) of Eleonora of Toledo, Amadis Maldonado was captain of the Corps of Engineers in the service of the Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine, holding the office from 1777 as Major. The superposition of a sheet of illuminated manuscript of the Gospel in the Castilian language on the sheet of the hunting scene reinforces this attribution.

This Trompe l’oeil depicts a series of engravings on the surface of a wooden board, typical of the Northern tradition of the “letter frame” or quodilibet (or, again, pêle-mêle), which in the mid-eighteenth century knew its maximum expansion in European painting and took on, at the turn of the century, other forms like still life and emerged as a visual practical joke of a new kind. From the beginning of the eighteenth century there are in fact more frequent depictions of wooden panels that show open letters, unsealed personal notes, images and writings in print and similar paper materials: a phenomenon that goes hand in hand with the great success of epistolary novels. The “defects” add a degree of plausibility, suggesting that the components of the picture share the same space with the viewer, a real space where things do not enjoy unalterable life in perfection but, taking part of daily life, they crease, lacerate, and break.

The dedication, on a cartouche within the “Meander”, to the Marquise Maria Settimia Strozzi (1745-1811), widow of Giuseppe Francesco Ferroni and living in the villa of Montughi, necessarily places the execution of the work after 1785, when – as documented the Florentine archives – the Ferroni was still living. A key element to define its dating is the presence of an engraving of the portrait of Admiral Nelson from an etching performed in 1798 by Carlo Lasinio from a painting by Daniel Orme: this trompe l’oeil was carried out, according to all the evidence, in the vicinity of such date and before 1811, the year of death of the Marquise Strozzi.

The engravings reproduced in the trompe l’oeil represent foundational references for the Florentine figurative culture of the late eighteenth century, from Proverbj figurati by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (Due ciechi in procinto di cadere nel fosso, 1678) to the etchings of Giuseppe Maria Crespi for Bertoldo, Bertoldino e Cacasenno (1736), from the scenes of the Dutch farm-style lyricism of Grechetto, to the Roman views of Piranesi (Arco di Nerone Druso con gl’aquedotti di Caracalla, 1745-1763 ca.) and Dominic Montagu (Veduta di S. Maria Maggiore, 1760 ca.).

This tempera by Maldonado of Aldana (Major of the Corps of Engineers) documents the intellectual proximity with the best-known contemporary artists of the Florentine artistic environment; in particular, Giuseppe della Santa and his sons Caterina and Pietro Leopoldo, authors of optical illusions that are “deceptive” cameos and carvings on a simple wooden surface. It is important to point out in this regard that Giuseppe, followed by his son, was restorer and “scrittore” of the Biblioteca Laurenziana, of the Magliabechiana and of the archives of the Grand Duke, admired by his contemporaries as“imitatore di caratteri” (“imitator of typefaces”), “abilissimo nel restaurare le antiche edizioni tanto coi caratteri a mano, che con le dorature e con gli altri convenevoli adornamenti”  (“skilled in restoring the old editions with both characters by hand, with gilding and other pleasant adornments”).

The carvings and the illuminated and printed manuscripts of the Trompe l’oeil are not linked to a figurative or allegorical message that the viewer must decipher, neither he or she is called to imagine a more profound meaning, conspicuously absent, of the nature of optical illusion of is work which seems to allude to the proverb of the two blind men. The magical power of the trompe l’oeil is that the represented objects are the equilibrium of two realities: that of the object and that of the artificial, pictorial illusion, as shown in the painting entitled  Raccolta di disegni con autoritratto e ritratto di Elleviou (private collection) exhibited by Boilly at the Salon of 1800.

(Alessandra Imbellone)

Photographer: Rob Matthews