Mother of the Nation: Femininity, Modernity, and Class in the Image of Empress Teimei
University of Kansas
History of Art
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Abstract This dissertation examines the political significance of the image of the Japanese Empress Teimei (1884-1951) with a focus on issues of gender and class. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Japanese society underwent significant changes in a short amount of time. After the intense modernizations of the late nineteenth century, the start of the twentieth century witnessed an increase in overseas militarism, turbulent domestic politics, an evolving middle class, and the expansion of roles for women to play outside the home. As such, the early decades of the twentieth century in Japan were a crucial period for the formation of modern ideas about femininity and womanhood. Before, during, and after the rule of her husband Emperor Taishō (1879-1926; r. 1912-1926), Empress Teimei held a highly public role, and was frequently seen in a variety of visual media. Through the investigation of various discursive forms of visual materials featuring Empress Teimei, this dissertation aims to reveal the political significance of Teimei as a role model of middle-class and aristocratic femininity. To this end, this dissertation examines Empress Teimei’s appearance in formal portraiture, representations of Teimei in popular media, and emulations of the Empress by upper class women, as well as tracing changes in her image through time as related to political circumstances and her personal biography. As a public figure, Empress Teimei held great sway over women’s decorum in the first three decades of the twentieth century; she was the first Empress to establish monogamous modern family relations, and was the first modern Empress to mother the successive Emperor. Despite her relevance to the narrative of Japanese imperial history, very few publications, particularly in English, have fully discussed the historical importance of the Empress. Furthermore, the visual representation that was so crucial to the formation of her public persona and image has received scant scholarly consideration. This dissertation will fill a void in art history, visual culture, and Japanese studies, opening up future avenues of research on how art and visual culture impacted the politics of gender and power in modern Japan. Specifically, this dissertation will pioneer the study of how the media presentation of the Imperial Family was intrinsically connected to the construction of feminine norms in the 1910s-30s. By bringing the image of Empress Teimei to the center of study, this dissertation contributes to the understanding of issues of gender and power as related to the Imperial Family in early twentieth-century Japan.
- Art History Dissertations and Theses 
- Dissertations 
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