shunga 春画
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
Also formerly osokuzu-no-e おそくずの絵, makura-e 枕絵, makurasoushi 枕草紙, or e-hon 会本; also warai-e 笑い絵, higa 秘画, enbon 艶本, enga 艶画, wajirushi わ印 or kemuri けむり. A generic term thought to have come into use during the latter half of the 19c for explicitly erotic paintings, prints and illustrations. Shunga was originally thought to be a Chinese derived expression but today this theory is disputed in Japan. The term higa (secret pictures) is considered more refined. Erotic paintings can be seen on sliding door panels in mid-15c handscrolls such as the Koshibagaki soushi 小柴垣草紙 and Chigo zoushi 稚児草紙. Even earlier, small erotic paintings on warrior helmets appeared in the 13-14c and in the 15-16c *otogi zoushi 御伽草紙 were illustrated with scenes of priests or nuns making love. Before the late 17c, shunga were exclusively admired by members of the court, military and monastic classes, but the genre gained wide-spread popularity with woodblock examples by artists such as Hishikawa Moronobu 菱川師宣 (c1618-94). By the 18c, their popularity led to a public ban on erotic prints, although tacit approval of their production was given by the government, allowing the genre to continue and even flourish. Ironically it was during the 18c and 19c that shunga reached their height of popularity. Almost every *ukiyo-e 浮世絵 artist, with the exception of perhaps Toushuusai Sharaku 東洲斎写楽 (ca.1794-5), secretly produced erotic prints during their careers. They did not sign their names, but some can be attributed to individual artists by their styles or the secret names which the artists used. Artists outside the ukiyo-e arena also painted erotic subjects. Shunga prints can be viewed in exhibitions, catalogues and books in the West but are still prohibited for general publication in Japan.


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