Even though Japanese art forms are quite numerous, the one that is recognized the most probably is Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) 

The ukiyo-e genre of art flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. 

Edo became the seat of government for the military dictatorship in the early 17th century. The merchant class at the bottom of the social order benefitted most from the city’s rapid economic growth. Many indulged in the entertainments of kabuki theatre, courtesans, and geisha of the pleasure districts. The term ukiyo (“floating world”) came to describe this hedonistic lifestyle. Printed or painted ukiyo-e images of this environment emerged in the late 17th century and were popular with the merchant class, who had become wealthy enough to afford to decorate their homes with them.

Some ukiyo-e artists specialized in making paintings, but most works were prints. Artists rarely carved their own woodblocks for printing; rather, production was divided between the artist, who designed the prints; the carver, who cut the woodblocks; the printer, who inked and pressed the woodblocks onto hand-made paper; and the publisher, who financed, promoted, and distributed the works. As printing was done by hand, printers were able to achieve effects impractical with machines, such as the blending or gradation of colours on the printing block.

Edo was the primary centre of ukiyo-e production throughout the Edo period. Another major centre developed in the Kamigata region of areas in and around Kyoto and Osaka. In contrast to the range of subjects in the Edo prints, those of Kamigata tended to be portraits of kabuki actors. The style of the Kamigata prints was little distinguished from those of Edo until the late 18th century, partly because artists often moved back and forth between the two areas. Colours tend to be softer and pigments thicker in Kamigata prints than in those of Edo. In the 19th century many of the prints were designed by kabuki fans and other amateurs.

The colourful, ostentatious, and complex patterns, concern with changing fashions, and tense, dynamic poses and compositions in ukiyo-e are in striking contrast with many concepts in traditional Japanese aesthetics. Prominent amongst these, wabi-sabi favours simplicity, asymmetry, and imperfection, with evidence of the passage of time; and shibui values subtlety, humility, and restraint.

Ukiyo-e is the ancestor of today’s manga culture! Do you enjoy Ukiyo-e and Japanese art?

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