Erotic Art of 17th to 19th Century Japanese Bedroom, Poem of the Pillow and the Floating World,

Starting in the 17th Century, Japan put its Erotic Imagination on display thanks to the work of Utamaro, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi and other artists of the Floating World...

What was 'the floating world' or Ukiyo (according to Wikipedia):

"Ukiyo (Japanese: 浮世 "Floating World") described the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo-period Japan (1600–1867). The "Floating World" culture developed in Yoshiwara, the licensed red-light district of Edo (modern Tokyo), which was the site of many brothels, chashitsu tea houses, and kabuki theaters frequented by Japan's growing middle class. The ukiyo culture also arose in other cities such as Osaka and Kyoto. The famous Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the Floating World", had their origins in these districts and often depicted scenes of the Floating World itself such as geisha, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, samurai, chōnin and prostitutes.

The term is also an ironic allusion to the homophone "Sorrowful World" (憂き世), the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release."

You can lay your eyes on Erotic Art created between the 17th and 19th century thanks to a well reaserched and richly illustrated book put together by the expert eye of Gian Carlo Calza, Poem of the Pillow published by Phaidon. An index card introduces each featured artist.


Gian Carlo Calza notes in the introduction that "Japanese erotic paintings and prints called 'images of spring' (shunga) play a far richer and more complex role in the country's wider artistic context, compared to the situation in the West, where this art form has often been perceived as a form of sinful expression or even as morally corrupting".

First illustration is 'Four scenes of lovemaking' (circa 1660) attributed to The Kanbun Master.

The Kanbun Master

The author also notes the contrast between "the West where the nude represented in the classical manner became an elevated art form, but it also offered a legitimate opportunity to look at naked bodies-an activity that otherwise had for centuries been seen as the gateway to sin and perdition" while Japan "lacking as it does both the tradition of contemplating the naked body and the association of sex with sin, witnessed the prolific production of great erotic art by important artists, but it did not include the nude as such"

From 18th century, one of the images from 'Poem of the Pillow' (Utakamura, circa 1788) by Kitagawa Utamaro, Poem of the pillow is considered the most famous erotic album in Japanese art.

Kitagawa Utamaro
Last illustration is 'Grass on the way of love' (Koi no michikusa, circa 1825) by Keisa Eisen

Keisai Eisen 

There are of course racier images amongst the 350 color illustrations this 464 pages book includes. I will let you discover them in the comfort of your bedroom.

Visiting Empire of the Senses for Tokyo Thursdays # 163

Previously: Elizabeth Andoh and Masato Nishihara Discuss Japan's Vegetarian Tradition

(* all illustrations courtesy of Phaidon)

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