It appears to be common, but by no means universal, for artists/publishers to include 之圖 in ukiyo-e title cartouches (sometimes ノ圖; written のづ in accompanying furigana; occasionally seen 圖 without the ‘no’). In terms of various print genres I am looking at, you might see 川中嶋大合戰之圖, a Picture of the Great Battle of Kawanakajima (Kawanakajima ō-kassen no zu), or 川中嶋大合戰, The Great Battle of Kawanakajima (Kawanakajima ō-kassen). Statistically I would hazard a guess that it’s 60:40 in favour of the ‘no zu’ in musha-e, but don’t quote me on that!
So, I’m interested in understanding why most institutional museums and auction houses would simply drop ‘View of’ or ‘Picture of’ from their English translations, as if 之圖 never existed in the title. You would think that there was a very specific, scholarly reason for doing this. Surely a historically arbitrary or idiosyncratic practice would not become a largely conventional, Western translation practice? For me, the omission is problematic, since I would always aspire to faithful character transcriptions, transliterations, and translations, but I might be ignorant here. Relevant to this language stack exchange (I trust), my question is whether it’s a reflection of the way the phrase is understood and regarded by a Japanese reader? For instance, using ‘no zu’ might well have been part of a cultural convention, but conceptually it is ‘redundant’ and therefore not translated. Some kind of anachronism? Something almost tautological in a visual/textual sense? Hence, irrelevant in an English translation. I’m not sure when ‘no zu’ found its way into visual art titles (at least mid-17th century), and if there is a correlative in fiction or other creative or performing arts.
Most museums record the Japanese characters as well as rōmaji, albeit with the shinjitai 図 instead of the kyūjitai 圖, e.g. The Great Battle at Kawanakajima (Kawanakajima ôgassen no zu), 川中島大合戦之図, MFA Boston. However, they rarely write their titles beginning ‘Picture of ...’, as this example attests. This is especially so of the MFA Boston. Yes, there are exceptions: the MFA lists an artwork as Picture of a Hakutaku (Hakutaku no zu), 白澤之図. The Met lists in its collection: Views of Foreigners (Gaikokujin no zu), 外国人之図. Again, mentioning ‘Views’ is uncommon, unless it is a landscape with 景, けい, kei (view, scene) in the title, or 勝景, しょうけい, shōkei (scenic view), e.g. the Lavenberg collection’s View of Nihonbashi Bridge in the Eastern Capital (Tōto Nihonbashi no shōkei), 東都日本橋之勝景.
The only ramification I can see for including ‘Picture of’, is that you need to occasionally change the active present participle, e.g. it sounds better to write Picture of the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ Entering Ōeyama, instead of Picture of the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ Enter Ōeyama (Shitennō Ōeyama iri no zu), 四天王江山入之圖.
Would love to know if anyone has insights into this, since from a Western perspective, it would seem strange for a museum or a catalogue raisonné to omit ‘View of’ from a C19th artwork that has clearly been labelled ‘View of the River Thames’ by the artist him or herself. Or, change an C18th title ‘Map of Van Diemen's Land’ to ‘Map of Tasmania’, simply because no one refers to it as Van Diemen’s Land any longer!
Not quite sure how to tag this question... it might be an outlier.