Hiroshige - Master of Nature at the Museo Fondazione Roma

Following the excellent From Rembrandt to Vermeer exhibition which closed earlier this year, the Museo Fondazione Roma (formerly known as Museo del Corso) continues to raise the bar with what is quite simply a stunning exhibition, presenting 200 works from the Honolulu Academy of Arts by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), one of the greatest Japanese artists of all time and vastly influential master of Ukiyo-e art or pictures of the floating world. Entitled Hiroshige - Master of Nature the exhibition takes the visitor on a thematic journey through the artist's work via four main sections – The World of Nature, Postcards from the Provinces, The Road to Kyoto and In the Heart of Tokyo – even providing a travel diary to allow younger visitors to hand stamp pages as they move through each section of the exhibition (although when I was there every adult, myself included, was also to be seen clutching their own diary and enthusiastically printing the Hiroshige-inspired motifs as they completed each new gallery section!)

Before entering the rooms of the gallery visitors must first cross a bridge and pass through a theatrical setting of Japanese screens, gurgling springs and Zen garden which sets the mood beautifully for the opening room and Hiroshige's images from nature – birds with wisteria boughs hanging behind them, owls in moonlight, egrets in reedy streams, koi fish, wild boar...it would be difficult to choose a favourite image.

Next come the works featuring some of the most important places and landmarks across the 60 odd provinces of Japan and then, if by this point in the exhibition you aren't already planning a trip to Japan, the third section dedicated to the two great roads that connected the imperial capital of Kyoto to the administrative capital of Edo (now Tokyo) will certainly have that effect! Many prints on display have been taken from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tôkaidô, which is widely considered to be Hiroshige's finest work. I particularly liked station 16 Kambara which shows a mountain village at night buried under a deep snowfall and station 46 Shono, which again puts the elements centre-stage with a group of figures buffeted by a sudden rainstorm in the mountains.

The gallery visitor then reaches Edo, home to the shôgun. Hiroshige depicted more than 100 locations in the city, some of which are strangely mysterious such as the exquisite Fox Fires on New Year's Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji (which depicts a Japanese legend about fox spirits or kitsune) or the bird's eye view over Susaki and the Jumantsubo Plain near Fukagawa with its swooping eagle at the top of the image.

There is a separate section dedicated to Hiroshige's undeniable influence on landscape photography in Japan with a selection of early photographs and postcards of famous Japanese landmarks in Hiroshige’s Landscapes in Early Photography and an equally fascinating area dedicated to explaining the elaborate creative process behind woodblock and xylograph prints.

The exhibition closes with a reminder of Hiroshige's impact on western art and artists – by using ultra high resolution digital reproductions of Van Gogh masterpieces visitors are able to directly compare, for example, Hiroshige's Sudden Shower at Atake with Vincent Van Gogh's Bridge in the Rain (part of the Impossible Exhibitions project devised by Renato Parascandolo).

This is a wonderful show – highly recommended!

Hiroshige - Master of Nature at the Museo Fondazione Roma is curated by Gian Carlo Calza with technical coordination by The International Hokusai Research Centre and continues until 7th June 2009. It will subsequently travel to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.