japonisme: 18th century, part II; the bits

10 November 2008

18th century, part II; the bits

 now as we've seen in culture after culture before, a thriving middle-class nurses the arts and 18th century japan was no different. with the edo period, the long isolationist era, peace and prosperity reigned across the land.

kabuki theater, poetry -- humorous and serious, the novel, the visual arts -- prints, paintings, and illustrated books -- and the sexual ones -- the courtesan districts, for example, prospered. and as a sort of visual chronicle of these growing realms, ukiyo-e -- images of this floating, ephemeral, world, was born as well.

what began as painting quickly turned to (at first) black-ink, occasionally hand- colored, prints, due to their ease of reproduction and the money there-by to be made. not surprisingly, spring painting was among the first genre to achieve major popularity. (it would be the waves of censorship that would bring back the landscape.)

the full-color print, however, was soon to follow, and it was primarily used in the spring painting; it was a natural hit, given all the newly- found free time. here's where we get to that debate again, though.

many, including the artist himself, attribute its invention to haranobu suzuki, late in the 18th century. but there is debate. some credit hu cheng yen, in china in the 17th century. "This was the medium the amateurs of spring painting had been looking for." 1 some, though, credit the jesuits for introducing this to the chinese (if they had only known!).

some point to the witch paintings of hans baldung grien, a german artist in the early 16th century, but since there is very little information about his full-color process, i believe it was the tool known as the pen which provided the reds, yellows and blues.

in any case, does it matter? it would not be the first time technology travelled east while philosophy/ design travelled east, nor, as you know, would it be the last. but as i said, haranobu said he was the man. "The inventor of the color printing was Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770). Harunobu had begun with the printing from the three or four woodblocks, gradually enlarging the number of the blocks to seven or nine." 2 (note how the prints are still somewhat 'primitive' to what our eyes are used to, as does the color.)

during the 17th and 18th centuries, as prosperity flourished, more and more dutch books (except those on religion) were allowed into japan. books of botany and anatomy, history and works by german copper-plate artists. we can see their tell-tale footprints everywhere. just as we can see the simplification of line, a shift in perspective, and a new awareness of the moment in the west in all the arts.

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Blogger foldedletters said...

I just had to comment on the faces. And the fan holding. The women look like they're thinking about something entirely other than sex. Interesting art...I've never seen this kind of porn. It's almost tasteful? I wonder if that was considered erotic...the restrained facial expressions. Personally, that takes some of the fun out of it. I wonder if it was quiet too? Mmmm...

11 November, 2008 15:40  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i think there's a good possibility that sex has always been, well, pretty much sex.

i've posted quite a lot of information on attitude and "signal" differences, and those really are different.

i don't think a facial expression in a print can be assumed to mean anything that we might read into it (but i'll see if i can find some info on it). i think that is was artist-produced in these cases perhaps speaks to the obvious quality.

but if you do a search in this blog for sex and for shunga i think you might find some interesting stuff.

11 November, 2008 18:36  
Anonymous lasourceauxbois said...

The facial expressions of the men are the same as those of the women. I'd rather think that those faces are maybe simply exempt of the guilt of christian puritanism. Sex is shown as an activity of pleasure/leisure among many other ones.

13 November, 2008 01:01  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thanks --great insights.

i had some other thoughts.

first, these were done for men, not women. in fact, some of them were as much as ads for particular courtesans, showing how "bendy" (as phoebe might say) they were.

also to recollect what's been in some other posts, nudity was no big thing to the japanese who bathed together, etc.

but genitals were of great interest. and with those, as with the bodies themselves, anotomical accuracy was never considered very important.

14 November, 2008 14:21  

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