Other than his mentor Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), the very talented pupil Kunisada (1786-1865) was a prolific contributor to the shunga genre. In this field he worked almost exclusively in illustrated books, some four dozens being known. Most often, these are signed with one of his erotic pseudonyms ‘Fukiyo Matabei’.
This plate comes from the masterpiece Four Seasons represents Kunisada at his best: an impressively decorative scene, most overpowering in color, in which attention is not drawn too closely to his over-formalized figures. The prints from this series feature more elaborate color-printing than any but the most luxurious of prints. They must have cost, complete in several volumes, the price of two dozen or more individual color prints.
Here the multi-color print reaches a high point of technical elaboration and density of form and color during the third decade of the 19th century.
The above image serves as an example of the shunga ‘frontispiece’ in which an only semi-erotic tableau is presented, to lead more more gradually into the erotic extremes to be presented further on in the books.
This plate is interesting for its specific content. The young hero is seen employing an early, painted shunga scroll as they were used in the days of the Han dynasty in China to remove inhibitions, and overcome a girl’s resistance. Whether for bridgerooms or seducers, this was one of the ‘customary’ functions of shunga, mentioned earlier.
The pictured scroll itself seems to be a typical example of pre-ukiyo-e Yamato-e work, featuring its own frontispiece, which straightway leads into a second, more frankly erotic scene. Aside from making manifest the format, and one of the uses, of the shunga scroll, the activities depicted in this plate may also serve to indicate why so few of these scrolls remain extant today in anything like mint condition.
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More content on the ‘Reading shunga scroll‘ design you can find HERE…!!!