What are differences between the Japanese and Americans in this picture?

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This image of Commodore Perry’s time in Japan is clearly painted by a Westerner.  We can see this because it depicts the Americans in a way that looks heroic while the Japanese are secondary players who are, for the most part, in the background or in deferential positions.

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This image of Commodore Perry’s time in Japan is clearly painted by a Westerner.  We can see this because it depicts the Americans in a way that looks heroic while the Japanese are secondary players who are, for the most part, in the background or in deferential positions.

The Americans are clearly the focus of this painting.  Perry is placed in such a way that the eye is drawn to him first.  He and the men nearest to him are in upright postures but are not at attention.  They are relaxed and seemingly in charge.  They are in uniform, making them look official and important.  The large mass of American military men to the left are braced at attention and are well-armed.  All of this helps make the Americans look important and in control.

The Japanese, by contrast, are barely visible.  The imperial commissioners are in the background.  They are kneeling and indistinct.  The Japanese man on the far right of the painting is bowing deferentially, again making the point that the Americans are the important people in the scene.  The only Japanese who looks like the Americans in any way is the man holding the pole arm with his back to us.  He, like the Americans, is armed and looks erect and confident.

By portraying the Americans and the Japanese differently in this way, the artist is subtly telling us who is important.  He does not do anything to make the Japanese appear bad, but he clearly shows that the Americans are more important and more in control of the scene.

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