The painting shows Temma Bridge, located in Osaka, during the Festival of the Lanterns, also known as Festival of the Gods – Tenjin Matsuri. There are boats in the river, each carrying multiple lanterns in in different arrangements. The bridge is fully lighted up from one end to the other with lanterns hanging on poles. There is a procession passing through the bridge, with people holding lanterns, while others are peering over the side, watching the boats in the river. In the background, Osaka is fully lighted up.
This print is a wonderful depiction of this festival, the most important one in Osaka and one of the three most important ones in Japan. The festival consists of a procession along Okawa River in Osaka, with people carrying lanterns both on land and on the river. There are fireworks and bonfires, all culminating in an impressive display of light. Apart from these, the festival also has bunraku (traditional puppet show), music, and dance performances.
The festival has a history of more than 1000 years, and was prevalent during Hokusai’s time. Generally held in July, this festival is still very much a feature of Osaka culture and is nowadays a major tourist attraction. The Festival of Lanterns on Temma Bridge is a block print depiction of this millennium old festival during the Edo period. currently kept in Brooklyn Museum in the US but is not on view to visitors.
Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist, renowned during the Edo period for his paintings, prints, and woodblocks. As a child, he worked in a bookshop and later as an apprentice to a wood carver. He studied wood block printing from Katsukawa Shunshō and published his first prints in 1779.
Hokusai’s work was greatly influenced by Chinese art of the time. He was famous for his block prints and his series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji is generally considered a masterpiece. Hokusai had extensive influence in art, and even inspired European artists. He also prompted the Art Nouveau movement in Europe.