bijinga 美人画
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Lit. pictures of beautiful women. Pictures depicting the beauty of the appearance, manners, and customs of women. The word bijinga was coined recently, probably in the Meiji period. Before then, pictures of beautiful women were called onna-e 女絵 or bijin-e 美人絵. Taken in this broader sense, two of the oldest extant examples are the 8c screen of Torige ryuujo-zu byoubu 鳥毛立女図屏風 (Standing Beauties decorated with Birds' Feathers) in *Shousouin 正倉院 and the 8c painting of *Kichijouten 吉祥天 in Yakushiji 薬師寺 of Nara. The plump women depicted in these paintings are thought to have represented the ideal type of the day, influenced by fashions of Tang dynasty, China. During the Heian and Kamakura periods, court ladies in stories were depicted in *emaki 絵巻 and other *yamato-e やまと絵 works, where they were stereotyped by using stylistic conventions such as *hikime kagihana 引目鈎鼻 (a line for the eye, a hook for the nose). At the 16c, with the changes in society related to the rise of the merchant class, there was a new interest in depicting daily activities and pleasures of contemporary life (see *fuuzokuga 風俗画). Popular entertainments were used for subject matter in paintings and then an interest developed in the beauty of personal appearance and form of women, including their clothing. Women of the brothels and pleasure quarters were predominately represented, and bijinga became a principal genre of the new *ukiyo-e 浮世絵. Well-known examples from the 17c include Matsuura byoubu 松浦屏風, in the Yamato Bunkakan 大和文華館, Nara, and Yuna-zu 湯女図 in MOA, Shizuoka prefecture. Single female figure portraits developed in the Kanbun 寛文 era (1661-73) with the Kanbun beauty, kanbun bijin 寛文美人. Typically, a yuujo 遊女 (courtesan or licensed prostitute) in a standing position was depicted in the bijinga of early ukiyo-e. This type of portrait was favored by Hishikawa Moronobu 菱川師宣 (ca. 1618-94), as well as by artists of the Kaigetsudou school *Kaigetsudouha 懐月派 and the Miyagawa 宮川 school. Moronobu also produced woodblock -prints of this subject. Pictures of beautiful boys and actors who played female roles, onnagata 女形, are also included in the genre, but Torii Kiyomasu 鳥居清倍 (fl. ca. 1696-1716) specifically called them senkenga 嬋娟画, pictures of the good-looking. Bijinga gradually broadened to include tea shop waitresses, the daughters and wives of tradesmen, etc. Nishikawa Sukenobu 西川祐信 (1671-1751) and Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 (1724-70) produced pictures of women of various social classes, in addition to courtesans. During the Meiwa 明和 era (1764-72), specific townswomen, such as *Kasamori Osen 笠森お仙 and Honyanagiya Ofuji 本柳屋お藤, came to be depicted in ukiyo-e prints. The visionary beauty that appeared in Harunobu's polychrome prints *nishiki-e 錦絵, dominated the genre for a generation. The overwhelming appeal of the statuesque beauty can be seen in the group portrayals by Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 (1752-1815). Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川歌麿 (1753-1806), a well-known artist who worked in this genre, established bust portraits *ookubi-e 大首絵, of beautiful women. The golden age of bijinga is thought to be the Kansei 寛政 era (1804-1830), represented by the work of Kiyonaga and Utamaro, and also by the work of Hosoda Eishi 細田栄之 (1756-1829). The lack of distinguishing characteristics in these paintings makes bijinga different from actor portraits *yakusha-e 役者絵, of the same era, in which individual personalities were portrayed. Without revealing the subjects' identity, bijinga expressed the beauty of women in daily life through the depiction of their lifestyles and activities. In the early 19c, Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1864) and Keisai Eisen 渓斎英泉 (1790-1848) responded to the decadent tenor of their times with weirdly beautiful bijinga. Pictures of beautiful women were not restricted to ukiyo-e. Also in the late Edo period, Maruyama Oukyo 円山応挙 (1733-95) and Watanabe Kazan 渡辺華山 (1793-1841) were known for their bijinga. The genre continued into the 20c with the work of Uemura Shouen 上村松園 (1875-1949), Kaburagi Kiyokata 鏑木清方 (1878-1973), and Itou Shinsui 伊東深水 (1898-1972).

Mikaeri bijin 見返り美人 (Hishikawa Moronobu 菱川師宣) / Tokyo National Museum

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