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  • Thumbnail for Woman wearing a fashionable kimono: The Chrysanthemum Festival
    Woman wearing a fashionable kimono: The Chrysanthemum Festival by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After restrictive censorship laws were passed in the 1840s, many artists turned to generalized pictures of the latest fashions and more domestic settings for their images of beauties.

  • Thumbnail for Woman looking away from game (Go) board
    Woman looking away from game (Go) board by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class. Bijin-ga (images of beauties) might be of actual contemporary and historic women or of an idealized type of beauty specific to a time and region. Courtesans in particular were usually depicted in the latest and most elaborate fashions of the day. After an increasing number of censorship laws were passed to limit the production of prints of famous courtesans, thought to corrupt the morals of the citizens of Japan, many artists turned to domestic images of mothers and daughters or women with servants and generalized pictures of the latest fashions in order to satisfy the demand for bijin-ga and skirt the laws.

  • Thumbnail for The General Amakasu Omi-no-kami Kagotoki riding a brown horse
    The General Amakasu Omi-no-kami Kagotoki riding a brown horse by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

    The son of a silk dyer, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was apprenticed to the printmaker Utagawa Toyokuni I. whose other pupils included Toyoshige and Kunisada. Unlike his master, who specialized in actor portraits, Kuniyoshi excelled in depicting historical scenes and events along with celebrated warriors. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist experimented widely, producing prints of everything from landscapes to erotica. Kuniyoshi’s first published work was a set of book illustrations released in 1814, although his name remained obscure for several years until his publication of a print series depicting 75 heroes from Japanese lore and legend. When prints of actors and beautiful women (bijin-ga) were banned by the Japanese government in 1842, the Japanese middle class became enthusiastic supporters of Kuniyoshi’s seemingly inoffensive historical prints. In 1843, the artist released a satirical triptych print criticizing the Shogun, launching an official investigation that resulted in the destruction of Kuniyoshi’s woodblocks and unsold prints, as well as an official censure. The print, however, remained popular with the middle class.