The prolific ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) often returned to themes of the great eleventh-century novel, especially in his erotic works, in collaboration with the author Ryuteo Tanehiko (1783-1842), he produced three books that came to be knows as 'The Three Genji'.
'The Three Whites'
The first, published in 1835, was The Fifty Erotic Chapters (Enshi goju yojo), consisting of three volumes: flowers, snow and moon - very popular subjects in Japanese painting and literature, and known as 'the three whites'. The series is an 'underground' erotic version. The very title The Fifty Erotic Chapters (Enshi goju yojo) is a punning parody of Genji gojuyo jo (Album of Fifty-four Chapters of the Tale of Genji).
'Open' and 'Hidden' Parts
Many compositions in this erotic version were created as parodies of the 'straight' versions in the original versions n the original illustrated novel, up as far as chapter fourteen of Inaka Genji that was being worked on in 1834. So publication of the erotic version probably occurred in 1835, or shortly after. It is clear from the intimate links between the 'open' and 'hidden' parts that the work was planned from the start as a single, unified project, with close cooperation between author and artist.
The sexual scenes take place in interiors, some of which are rendered in the finest detail, as for example, in the depiction of the trunk seen behind the two lovers (image in Premium), or in the screen decorated with a black landscape in black ink and in the opulent clothes strewn on the floor during the sexual encounter between a courtesan and her lover, who is shown calm and satisfied as he smokes a pipe (image in Premium).
In another scene, on the other hand, the figures are shown in no particular setting, and with only some shading in the background color (Fig.13). One feels that these are brief and very intense love scenes, judging from the characters' facial expressions and the muscle tension evident in their bodies.
Below a selection of the illustrations in the books...
The man is Mitsuuji, hero of the novel, and the woman is Fuji-no-kata. On the left appear the characters 'Hitomarosha', the name of the venue for the couple's secret assignation. This is a direct reference to part two of the parody novel Inaka Genji.
For a complete overview including all the illustrations (+ detailed close-ups) in these shunga books, you can subscribe to Premium now for a risk-free 28 day trail and get instant access...
Click HERE for a blog on Kunisada's complete Azuma Genji series.
Sources: Poems of the Pillow by Gian Carlo Calza, Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art by Timothy Clark (a.o.), Mita Arts Gallery
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