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Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
THE EROTIC ART OF THE FLOATING WORLD
In the Japan of the 1800's, the color woodcut print was the most popular artform of the day. The artists of the so-called floating world or ukiyo-e portrayed real life personages and situations as the subject matter for their wood block prints. Ukiyo-e artists created extraordinary portraits of Kabuki Actors, Geisha, Sumo Wrestlers, and other notables, as well as landscapes and architectural views of old Japan. The incredible artistic output of these highly skilled artists left us an accurate view of life in the Japan of yesteryear. There was however another aspect to the art of the ukiyo-e that few Westerners have heard of, that is the art of shunga, or... the Images of Spring.

The production of such images kept most ukiyo-e artists very busy. In fact there were no artists of the time who remained uninvolved with the creation of shunga. The artists of the floating world many times created highly charged sexual imagery, erotic imagery, what Westerners would categorize as "pornographic" pictures. Ukiyo-e artists created these "Images of Spring" without the slightest notion of embarrassment or shame.

Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
The sexually explicit nature of shunga wood block prints prevents me from displaying the full images... since many minors visit this site. I've preferred instead to present some wood cut images that I've edited and cropped. Even in this edited form the nature of these prints is most apparent. Shunga prints are of such a risque nature as to make even the most liberal minded person blush!

There was no stigma attached to the production, sale, or purchase of shunga artworks, in fact the market for such artworks was a lively and lucrative one. Erotic images were not illegal and collections of shunga were sold in book form, called enpon.

This artistic output on the part of Japanese artists had no equivalent in the Western art of that time and illustrates a completely different attitude about sex and morality. The aesthetics of shunga reflected the Japanese view of the body and sex as being part of the natural world, a world that held no concept of original sin.

Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
Shunga - Images of Spring
It was a longstanding tradition that brides of feudal lords bring a collection of shunga to go along with their wedding furniture. There was also a tradition of feudal lords placing shunga in their helmet box whenever they had a new suit of armor made. These customs were a talismanic wish for eternal happiness and many artists made a comfortable living as a result.

The sale of shunga to a high-ranking person would bring enough money to sustain an artist for months, and so many notable, first rate and highly accomplished artists devoted themselves to this unprecedented artform. The level of detail with which ukiyo-e artists portrayed the human body revealed complete familiarity with anatomy and sexuality. Practically speaking the "Images of Spring" also served as a form of sex education for the sons and daughters of the well to do. This type of frank, accurate, and free representation of sexual matters was not to be seen in the West for at least another one hundred and fifty years.

There is limited knowledge of this artform outside of Japan, and in Japan itself shunga is scarcely seen or spoken of these days. However, the aesthetics of shunga still resonate in the contemporary world of certain manga and anime productions. The venerable art of shunga is the root for some modern day Japanese adult comic titles like Lunatic Party (pictured below), proving without a doubt that eroticism in contemporary anime and manga is not at all a new phenomenon copied or borrowed from the West.

Those who are well acquainted with Japan's enormous manga industry should be familiar with the genre of comic known as hentai (or "perverted"). These contemporary publications often focus on explicit "adult" material, but they have a clear artistic connection to the past in that their themes can be traced back to shunga. Shunga artworks are much more than mere "dirty pictures."

The prints are of considerable artistry and cultural importance. In fact quite a few prestigious art museums around the world, especially in Japan, have collections of the highly prized risque prints (though they are not generally on public display).

LUNATIC PARTY

Some scenes portrayed in shunga prints involve tender courting and romance, with all the attendant trappings of flirtation. Many of the prints offer scenes that leave nothing to the imagination. Couples are pictured in states of partial undress, in the throes of passionate lovemaking, utilizing a variety of positions and techniques.

There are even prints that depict lovely young ladies pleasuring themselves, a sight nearly totally absent from the annals of Western art! Whatever the sensual delights portrayed, the prints always manage to do so with sophistication and a certain elegance. Shunga prints are one of the overlooked treasures of traditional Japanese fine art. The "Images of Spring" should be properly recognized as high art, and at the same time preserved and studied for being one of the world's greatest graphic art forms.

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