With ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, Japan left a masterly and unique mark on the world of graphic art. These woodcuts bear a singular vivid witness to Japanese everyday life between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In this book, lavishly illustrated with 377 colour plates, authors Roni Neuer and Herbert Libertson take us through these centuries, tracing the development of the unparalleled technical and artistic achievement of ukiyo-e.
A biographical background by Sugugu Yoshida for the main exponents of the ukiyo-e genre - among them Moronobu, Harunobu, Shunsho and Utamoro - introduces each new section of prints. Color printing was introduced to Japan via China. The ukiyo-e prints were originally black and white until the technique was gradually expanded and perfected to incorporate colours, with the creation of nishiki-e (brocade prints). Woodcut prints were used to illustrate works of literature; then as their popularity increased, their themes and subjects multiplied to include portraits of beautiful women, wrestlers and famous actors of Kabuki theater. Many ukiyo-e prints by Torii Kyonobu I and Torii Kiyomaus I served as theater signposts and playbills. Celebrated courtesans were also immortalized by ukiyo-e artists, and provided Japanese women with an ideal of beauty they could emulate. Erotic ukiyo-e were enormously popular. When their display in shop windows was banned in the early eighteenth century, the artists were forced to make their composition more alluring and elaborate. A strong element of eroticism underlines many of the works, whether directly - as in the portraits of courtesans of the scenes from the famous pleasure quarters of Yoshiwara - or indirectly, in the pictures of ordinary women in everyday situations. Romanticism and sensuality go hand by hand in the ukiyo-e world. Many of the prints evoke a delicate, whimsical world of blossom and poetry, but one where the feminine ideal of beauty is nevertheless enshrined and in its full erotic glory.
Published by Gallery Books, a division of W.J. Smith, Inc., New York, USA, 1988
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