The Japanese Engraving Ukiyo-e

The distinctive character of Japan is the main feature of the ukiyo-e art. Ukiyo-e is the Japanese art of engraving. Having no analogues among the other cultures of the East the art of ukiyo-e has become the basis for the art development. Many western artists have been influenced by this fine art as well. Vincent van Gogh is the author of the series of paintings that are evidently influenced by ukiyo-e.

Ukiyo-e had been originated from the depth of the urban culture and managed to undergo the numerous alternations and reforms during the two centuries of the Edo epoch. The founder of the Japanese art or engraving is considered to be Hisikawa Moronobu. He was the first artist who created not only the illustrations for books but also the easel art works. His careful attitude towards the process of creating a picture is worth admiring. He used to sign his paintings and gravings and value them as the real items of art. His unique style later acquired by his successors has defined the whole style of the ukiyo-e engraving. The main two genres formed within this framework are called “bidzinga” and “yakusya-e”.

  • Bidzinga gravings commonly depict the young beautiful women. The prototypes for these art works were geishas. The women of this profession were famous not only for their beauty but also for their education, fine taste and delicate manners. They used to set the style for all the fashion and culture trends. In that way such engravings turned out to be the way to inform the women about the alternation of tastes in make-up, clothes and music.

  • Yakusya-e is the engraving which depicts drama. The reason for the development of yakusya-e was the overwhelming popularity of the Kabuki theater among the citizens. These engravings were the portraits of the Kabuki actors in the most cases.

Both these genres remained popular during the whole history of ukiyo-e.

The crucial point for ukiyo-e gaining its unbelievable popularity was the invention of the colored printing in 1765 by the engraving artist Sudzuki Harunobu. Until that time the gravings were painted by hand. This event has launched the mass production of ukiyo-e gravings as it has eased the process of making them dramatically.

The beginning of the nineteenth century is considered to be “the golden age” of ukiyo-e. The wide acknowledgment was gained by this art thankful to the greatest ukiyo-e artists of that time, such as Kubo Suynman, Kitagawa Utamaro, Torii Kiyonaga and others.

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