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Japanese Woman by Ragusa, 1881, at Tokyo National Museum
Vincenzo Ragusa (8 July 184113 May 1927) was an Italianmarker sculptor who lived in Meiji period Japanmarker from 1876-1882. He introduced European techniques in bronze casting, and new methods of modeling in wood, clay, plaster and wire armatures which exerted a significant role in the development of the modern Japanese sculptural arts.


In 1876, the Technical Fine Arts School (Kobu Bijutsu Gakko, later part of the University of Technology and later the Tokyo Institute of Technology), an art school of painting and sculpture, was founded in Tokyomarker under the supervision of the Ministry of Industrymarker. This was the first governmental art school founded in Japan. Special emphasis was placed on sculptural art, as the number of applicants was far less than that for painting. With the waning popularity of Buddhism in the early Meiji period, traditional sculptural art had fallen into disfavor, and was surviving in minor arts such as architectural ornament, noh-masks, dolls, netsuke , and ivory-work.

Upon recommendation of the Italian Minister to Tokyo, Conte Alessandro Fe, the Meiji government contracted three Italian artists as foreign advisors: Vincenzo Ragusa (1841–1927) for sculpture, Antonio Fontanesi (1818–1882) for drawing and Giovanni Cappelletti (died 1885) for the preparatory course. These individuals greatly influenced the development of Japanese art and architecture through the next several decades. The acceptance of teachers in art from Italy alone was based on the unofficial government policy of accepting military advice from France, industrial advice from Great Britainmarker, agricultural advice from the United Statesmarker, and legal/medical advice from Germanymarker.


Early life

Ragusa was born outside of Palermomarker, Sicily in 1841. Before entering military service at the age of twenty, he studied drawing and ivory-carving; but later after he resumed his artistic career, he won the highest prize at the art exhibition held in Milanmarker in 1872. Three years later, when the competitive exhibition which was to choose a sculptor to be sent to Japan was held, Ragusa was the winner.

Career in Japan

Ragusa lectured in French and was interpreted by an official of the Foreign Ministrymarker. The curricula at the Technical Fine Arts School consisted of perspective drawing, copying of paintings and making plaster models, still-life and life. His students included Takeuchi Kyuichi.

Ragusa also had his own studio in his residence in Mita, Tokyomarker, and produced many portrait sculptures of notable people, actors and common people during his seven years in Japan. In recognition of his services, Ragusa was received in audience by Emperor Meiji in February 1879.

Ragusa renewed his contract in 1879 for a second six-year term, but the Technical Fine Art School closed in January 1883 due to financial difficulties and a strengthening of public opinion towards preservation of Japanese traditional culture. Ragusa left Japan in August 1882, taking with him a large collection of Japanese and Chinese art; this collection is now maintained by the Museo Prestorico Chierchieriano in Romemarker. He was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun (Fifth Class) in June 1884.
Japanese Actor by Vincenzo Ragusa, University Museum of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music

Later life

Ragusa brought a Japanese lacquer artist named Kiyohara Einosuke with him to Italy, along with Einosuke's wife (who was skilled in embroidery) and their daughter Tamayo (or Tama, see Kiyohara Tama).

Upon his return to Italy, Ragusa opened the Scuola Superiore d'Arte Applicata in Palermo, and employed Kiyohara and his wife as instructors attempting to introduce Japanese lacquer techniques to Italian art students. The attempt failed due to difficulties in obtaining the necessary raw materials, and Kiyohara and his wife returned to Japan after six years. However, they left behind their daughter Tamayo, who married Ragusa later in 1889. She adopted the name of Mrs. Eleonora Ragusa.

Ragusa died in Palermo in 1927 at the age of 86. In October 1933, his widow returned to Japan, after staying more than half a century in Italy. She died in 1939.

Artistic legacy

Sixteen of Ragusa's works were given to the Imperial Art School in Tokyo by Kiyohara Tama on her return to Japan in 1933. They are kept in the University Art Museum of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Musicmarker. Other works, including a "Statue of Napoleon I" which was made at the order of the Imperial family, remain in the Imperial Householdmarker. Although his works rarely bear a signature or date, the portrait statue "Miss Tama Kiyohara" is known with certainty to be dated 1878, as the sitter was seventeen years old at the time.


  • Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. Prentice Hall (2001). ISBN 0131176021
  • Sadao Tsuneko, et al. Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview. Oxford University Press (2003). ISBN 477002939X
  • Yamada, Chisaburo. Japanese Modern Art. Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jul., 1940), pp. 567-578

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