Monday, November 05, 2012

'Early Ukiyo-e Masters' in the Völkerkundemuseum in Heidelberg

'Early Ukiyo-e Master' is an exhibition still running at the Völkerkunde Museum (ethnology museum) in Heidelberg. Since it was raining all day I thought it would be a nice alternative program for a sunday afternoon.
Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints; the name means 'pictures of the floating world'. A sixteen-foot long scroll from 868 AD is believed to be the oldest dated woodblock printing still in existence. The British Museum currently houses the scroll which was discovered in the early 20th century.
The exhibition in Heidelberg started with some early monochromatic woodblock prints from the first half of the 17th century. Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed and the ukiyo-e of the Heidelberg Collection are nowhere to find in the world wide web, some non-Heidelberg prints will have to do.
The first is an early monochromatic print (sumizuri-e) from an anonymous artist, c. 1625

They soon began to add paint by hand (benizuri-e):

Young girl as a komuso amid chrysanthemums, early 18th century
(c) British Museum (1924,0514,0.1)

And from here it was only a small step to make the first multiple-block print with a different colour for each block (nishiki-e), using three to four colours. The first full colour print was made by Suzuki Harunobu in 1765.

Autumn Moon at Ishiyama, 1854
(c) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (49.1226)

There were also beautiful prints of Kabuki actors like Ichikawa Ebizou II. Here is a benzuri-e similar to the one in the exhibition:

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizô II as Kagekiyo by Torii Kiyomasu II (benizuri-e, 1752)
(c) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (47.231)

Equally beautiful and obviously more precious (because they were behind glass) were some urushi-e which have nothing to do with urushi lacquer. In an urushi-e the ink was thickened with glue to embolden the image:

Okumura Toshinobu, 'Young Lovers by Mount Fuji', About 1720
wikipedia 'urushi-e'

By now you are probably as hungry as we were; so we went home and had a delicious squash ragout :)
To end a fine day we watched a movie, called 'Aftershock'.
It was filmed after a novel with the same title, written by Zhang Ling, a Chinese expat living in Canada and tells the story of the great earthquake in Tangshan in 1976. It did not so much concentrate on the earthquake itself than rather how it affected a family, ripped apart and suffering from the post-traumatic experiences they had to go through. Very touching stories. When If I can read actual Chinese, I will read this book for sure :))

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