Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ukiyo-e (浮世絵, a Japanese term meaning "pictures of the floating world") is a style of painting, but is more commonly associated with a type of woodcut printmaking that became popular in Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries. The art form arose in the metropolitan culture of Edo (Tokyo) during the second half of the 17th century, originating with the single color works of Moronobu Hishikawa.
Ukiyo-e prints were made using the following procedure:
- The artist produced a master drawing in ink
- Craftsmen glued this drawing, face-down to a block of wood, cutting away the areas where the paper was white, thus leaving the drawing, in reverse, as a relief print on the block, but destroying the drawing.
- This block was inked and printed, making near-exact copies of the original drawing.
- These prints were in turn glued, face-down, to blocks and those areas of the design which were to be printed in a particular color were left in relief. Each of these blocks prints at least one color in the final design.
- The resulting set of woodblocks were inked in different colors and sequentially impressed onto paper. The final print bore the impressions of each of the blocks, some printed more than once to obtain just the right depth of color.
Ukiyo-e were a relatively cheap way of making many images. They were meant for mainly townsmen, who weren't rich enough to buy an original painting. The original subject of Ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans, bulky sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while engaged in appealing activities. Later on landscapes also became popular. Political subjects, and individuals above the lowest strata of society (courtesans, wrestlers and actors) were not sanctioned in these prints and very rarely appeared. Sex was not a sanctioned subject either, but continually appeared in ukiyoe prints. Artists and publishers were sometimes punished for creating these sexually explicit shunga.
Ukiyo-e were a source of inspiration for many European impressionist painters.
Important Ukiyo-e artist include:
Sample Ukiyo-e are available on pages of individual artists.
- Overviews of the Printmaking Process detailed description of the stages of printmaking with many illustrations
- Viewing Japanese Prints
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