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Pictures of an Elusive World – Ukiyo-e

Identity is a key feature of Japanese ukiyo-e engravings. Having no analogies in the art of other countries of the Far East, this system formed the basis for the formation of not only the culture of Japan itself, but also influenced the historical course and formation of the whole world culture.

For almost two centuries (XVII – XIX centuries), dating back to the Edo era, Ukiyo-e existed, originating in the bowels of urban culture and going a long and interesting way, captured by masters of Japanese engraving creating their paintings at different periods.

Hisikawa Moronobu (1618-1694) is considered the founder of the ukiyo-e engraving. He was the first to create not only book illustrations, but also easel works. By signing each and treating them as true works of art, Moronobu was a huge success. His art, the work of his students and younger contemporaries (Torii Kiyonobu and Kaygetsudo Ando) determined the style of the early engraving of ukiyo-e. The main genres that formed during this period were bidzing and yakusha-e.

Bigzinga – the image of beautiful women. The heroines of the stories were the beautiful inhabitants of the “green quarters” (entertainment venues), who at that time played a very significant role in Japan. These women were famous not only for their beauty, but also for their education, great taste and exquisite manners. It was they who set the tone for fashion, so the engraving quickly became not only a work of art, but also had a fair amount of information, telling about events in the life of the capital, fashion, noble people, and sometimes served as an advertisement for entertainment venues.

Yakusya-e – theater engraving. The development of this engraving genre was due to the frenzied popularity of the actors of the capital’s Kabuki theater among the townspeople, since the Yakusha-e were mainly their portraits. Both of these genres have been relevant throughout the history of the existence of ukiyo-e.

The invention of color printing of ukiyo-e in 1765 by the master of engraving Suzuki Harunobu became an extremely important event. Of course, until that time, engravings were not always black and white: they were either hand-painted or the two-color printing technique was used. The process of making an engraving itself was very long and laborious, because it was based not only on the principles of painting, but also on calligraphy, poetry and decorative and applied art. It was more collective creativity, since the artist, the engraver, and the printer participated in the work.

The end of the XVII – the beginning of the IX centuries is considered the “golden age” of Ukiyo-e. Great popularity and universal recognition were brought by Japanese engraving by such masters as Torii Kiyonaga, Kitagawa Utamaro, Chobunsai Aisi, Kubo Shunman and many others. At the beginning of the 19th century, landscape became a favorite topic of ukiyo-e. Master Katsushika Hokusai gained world fame in this direction, with a series of his engravings “36 Views of Fuji” and the fifteen-volume work “Hokusai Manga”. At the same time, the work of representatives of the Ukiyo-e Utagawa school came first. Its founder, Utagawa Toyoharu, became famous for its landscapes uki-e (“perspective paintings”).

Later, to the themes of the image of beautiful ladies (geisha and courtesans) and actors of the popular kabuki theater, in which masters achieved portrait similarity in the later stages, erotic trends, scenes of admiring beautiful natural phenomena, and kate-ga (“flowers and birds” were added “), And landscapes, and plot compositions of literary works and military chronicles. Thus, ukiyo-e covered almost all aspects of life of people of different ages and position in society.

The Japanese themselves did not particularly appreciate ukiyo-e as highly artistic works, so not many prints were preserved. But the fashion for ukiyo-e in Europe forced them to rethink their attitude towards them, because engravings were massively bought by collectors and art lovers. Thus, Japanese engraving had a huge impact on 19th-century French painting (impressionism), and through it on the painting of all European countries.

Japanese engraving. Matabei Iwasa. Courtesan sitting on the veranda 1716Japanese engraving. Kiyonobu. Horse dance
Japanese engraving. Harunobu. The god of happiness Fukurokuju in the barber
One of the seven gods of happiness is depicted – the most popular deities in the pantheon of Japanese beliefs. The seven gods of happiness were perceived as something very close, ordinary, they could be asked for the smallest, even vain things. They were not afraid, they were often made fun of, portraying them in funny or incriminating situations.

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