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Hanging scroll Japanese woodblock

Hanging scroll Japanese woodblock also known as ukiyo-e or ‘pictures of the floating world’ was first established during the 16th and 17th century. Subjects tackled were customs and traditions of that era, and often created on sliding partitions and screens. On the latter parts of the period, different artists explore other subjects such as kabuki actors and pleasure quarters’ scenes. This has countered the belief that ukiyo-e came from Hishikawa Moronobu’s experimentations in using beautiful women in woodblock prints during the latter part of the 17th century. Because woodblock prints are easy to mass-produce, these form of art has become widely popular among ordinary people of different social classes.

Woodblock prints were created first by using black or monochrome ink. But on the early 18th century, tan-e has also been popular. Compared to monochrome woodblock prints, tan-e paintings appeared with vermillion pigments, and can include up to three colors added to the black lines. Beni-e came forth, using benibana flowers to create a crimson hue. Urushi-e is another form of beni-e, which uses a sort of black glue to produce a luster just like that of a lacquer. Benizuri-e was invented in 1744, the first form of polychrome prints.

Most of the popular ukiyo-e prints of today have originated in 1765, and was known as the nishiki-e (brocade picture technique). One of the early nishiki-e masters was Suzuki Harunobu. He specializes in woodblock prints of attractive women.

Then came Tori Kiyonaga, he developed a new female image from his prints, and depicted women who looked long bodied, slim and wholesome. But among them, the most widely acclaimed was Kitagawa Utamaro of the late 1780s. He has created many close-up portraits or okubi-e. This type of prints gained a lot of attention from the public. Toshusai Sharaku also charmed the public with his eccentric way of painting kabuki actors. Almost at the same period, Katsushika Hokusai also became popular in bijinga illlustrations and mad verse books illustrations or kyokabon. He gained international acclaimed through his work in the series of woodblock prints called Thirty Six Views of Mt. Fuji.

Utagawa Hiroshige continued the ukiyo-e genre in the 19th century. He created sceneries and landscape designs that were well accepted by many during his time. In the year 1854, at the end of Tokugawa government’s close door policy, ukiyo-e productions had started to decline. Other genres such as Yokohama-e and kaika-e tried to revive the woodblock tradition, but the artistic power, and historical relevance of ukiyo-e faded in time.


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