59 otani oniji iii as edohei by sharaku art institute

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Unformatted text preview: ns are almost all identical, reflecting the same kind of humanism based on the concept of people not as individuals but as two-dimensional types or even stereotypes that is found in the characters of Saikaku, Chikamatsu, and other Tokugawa period writers. Although a number of artists of the ukiyo-e school are noted for their depiction of feminine beauty, the most celebrated is Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806). Utamaro’s typical beauties are long and willowy and have about them a languid and sensual air (fig. 58). Often they are portrayed in great intimacy, with one or both breasts bare and with hair and clothing in casual disarray. To many later—and often unabashedly puritanical —critics Utamaro has epitomized the decadence into which they believe ukiyo-e sank at the end of the eighteenth century. It is true that Utamaro lapsed into a kind of mannerism in his final years and that, with the exception of the work of two early nineteenth century artists—Hokusai and Hiroshige, who were in any case unusual in that they specialized 200 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture Fig. 57 “Waterfall” by Harunobu (courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Louis V Ledoux) . chiefly in landscapes—the traditional ukiyo-e did in fact lose most of its vitality about this time. Nevertheless, Utamaro’s art, as observable in his better prints, is clearly of superior quality. In sureness of line, overall composition, and delicacy of handling subject matter, he ranks with the best of the ukiyo-e masters. We may also note that Utamaro, in his celebration of the beauty of the female body, represented something new in the Japanese cultural tradition. Until this age of townsman culture and establishment of the artistic theme of erotic love, the Japanese—in marked contrast, for example, to the Greeks—had devoted little attention to the human body, either male or female, as an object of beauty. Lady Murasaki, the author of The Tale of Genji, observed in her diary: “Unforgettably horrible is the naked body. It really doe...
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