The Courtesan Shigeoka of Okamoto-ya; The Courtesan Sugatano of Sugataebi-ya; The Courtesan Hanamurasaki of Tama-ya


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women) capture the trends in feminine beauty by featuring both real and idealized images of high-ranking courtesans, historic figures, geisha (performers of music and dance), lower-ranked courtesans, fictional characters, notable townswomen, and ordinary women. These high-ranking courtesans from Edo’s famous pleasure district, Yoshiwara, are identified on each print by their names, the houses in which they worked, and the locations of the houses. Gorgeously attired from their elaborately coiffed hair to their lofty platform shoes, these women create a dramatic impression. There were several parallels between Kabuki actors and high-ranking courtesans during the Edo Period, including the use of hereditary names that could carry the cachet of celebrity down through generations.

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1 print (3 sheets) : woodcut, color ; 37.8 x 74.8 centimeters (whole image), 37.8 x 25.4 centimeters (left panel), 37.7 x 24.9 centimeters (center panel), 37.8 x 24.5 centimeters (right panel)

Last updated: July 26, 2012