ASIA212Varley

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Unformatted text preview: s not have the slightest charm.”23 And in the Genji, which so wonderfully evokes the high age of court life in the Heian period, we find very little concrete description of what people Fig. 58 Half-length portrait from the “Studies in Physiognomy: Ten Kinds of Women” by Utamaro (Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Edward Loder Whittemore) 202 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture looked like. When there are descriptions, they are largely restricted to facial features and, in the case of women, to their hair, which, if long and lustrous, constituted the most important feature of feminine beauty in that age. The court women in the Genji Scrolls are invariably shown in voluminous robes, with only their rather plump, whitened faces and their hands protruding and with hair—body-length or longer—flowing down their backs (see fig. 27). Courtier tastes, and indeed the tradition of courtly love, persisted throughout the medieval centuries; and even though samurai replaced courtiers as rulers, we find no new interest in the arts in the physical beauty of humans. Thus not until the early modern age of the Tokugawa period did the Japanese turn, literally for the first time, to the aesthetic delights of the nude, as we can observe them so finely revealed in the work of Utamaro and other masters of ukiyo-e. One of Utamaro’s contemporaries was a mysterious genius named Tòshûsai Sharaku (dates unknown). Almost nothing is known with certainty about Sharaku’s identity or activities apart from the astonishing fact that he did his entire corpus of surviving work—some 145 prints, mostly of kabuki actors—during a concentrated period of less than ten months in 1794. Whereas Utamaro specialized in pictures of the courtesan, Sharaku was the master chronicler of the actor (fig. 59). Both artists had a penchant for doing close-up, bustlike portraits of their subjects, and both frequently left the backgrounds of their prints blank; otherwise, they had virtually nothing in common. Utamaro’s prints are...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.

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