ARTE by Kei Ohkubo Episode One #Manga

Arte 1I learned that yesterday was World Book Day and when asked if I did anything to celebrate, I realised that I’d done something I’ve never done before in terms of reading, I finished my first Japanese Manga called ARTE, illustrated and written by Kei Ohkubo translated into French and set in Florence Italy!

My daughter never liked reading books when she was younger and seemed almost stressed out by the appearance of so many words on the page, it provoked some kind of anxiety and there was nothing I could do to encourage her.

One day she came home from school with a book in her hand and didn’t stop to look up and continued to her bedroom to read. I was fascinated, what was this book that got her reading and why was she reading it back to front?

It was a Japanese manga and although it was translated into French, they still published them with the front cover on the back and you must read and turn the pages from right to left, from the back to the front – I am sure this is an excellent brain exercise!

Arte, was the first volume I chose, I wanted to read one myself, though not the genre my daughter reads (and creates – she’s created more than one of her own series preferring storytelling through drawing and dialogue), which has more of a gothic orientation.

I also chose it to show her some images of Italy through storytelling and to reinforce why it is a beautiful language to learn (she started the school year late and there were no more places in Spanish class, so she has been forced to learn Italian).

So reading a new genre that immerses itself into another culture, reading it in another language seemed like a fun way to celebrate World Book Day. And not to mention it has a fabulous, feisty, young woman protagonist, just the thing for an adolescent girl and her mother to read!

Arte lives in Florence at the beginning of the 16th century and dreams of becoming a painter, a wish indulged when her father was still alive, but scorned by her mother after he dies, a young woman must marry to ensure the continued protection and support of the family, her passions were secondary, not deemed important.

arte Ohkubo

Arte rebels against this idea and with determination visits the city’s ateliers in search of an apprenticeship, only to be laughed at and scorned by the community, until one young artisan offers her a challenge, he thinks she won’t achieve, and then must fulfil his promise to let her become his apprentice. Although she is of noble birth and he of humble origin, he discovers they share a common motivation to want to pursue art in their lives.

Eventually he takes her to meet a client, one whom he often makes a portrait of. The client wishes Arte to paint the portrait, thus life begins to change for Arte!

Although the story appears to show painting as a domain for men and Arte a young feminist, wanting equally to indulge her passion and develop her skill, it appears Arte did have contemporaries in the Renaissance period, they were rare indeed and faced numerous challenges.  Four of these women (there were more) produced the stunning self portraits below as well as other great works and were encouraged in their chosen metier.

The book shows the challenge also between young and old, between youthful idealism and middle age fear, the daughter unafraid to pursue her dreams, life has yet to disappoint her greatly, she believes in her own determination, while the mother has lost her protector and her chance to change her own life, so wishes to use the daughter to allay her own fears, to protect her from disappointment, even if at the expense of destroying her spirit.

Further Reading

Female painters from the Italian Renaissance period

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi (Rome 1593 – Naples 1652)

Liviana Fontana (Bologne 1552 – Rome 1614)

Sofonisba Anguissola (Crémone 1535 – Palerme 1625)

Elisabetta Sirani (Bologne 1638 – 1665)