Sensual Silhouettes as Depicted in Shunga Art
Marijn Kruijff
4 min

Sensual Silhouettes as Depicted in Shunga Art

4 min

For the reader over forty years of age, probably the most famous silhouette they know is the one of Alfred Hitchcock from the classic TV show “Alfred Hitchcock presents”. The master of suspense knew that the use of the silhouette adds a mysterious element and therefore used this technique in several of his movies such as Psycho and Notorious.

silhouette art

Famous Hitchcock silhouette

Shadow Puppets

The telling of stories with shadows goes back to ancient times. Some of the earliest records of shadow puppets can be found in the Han Dynasty (c.206 B.C to 220 A.D.) in China. Besides suspense, silhouettes can create a feeling of solitude, or a glamorizing view of the world. These exciting elements were also used by the great ukiyo-e artists of the Edo period. The shunga designs below are some stunning examples…

silhouette art

Intimate couple in the garden with partying people in the background‘ (c.1850) attributed to Utagawa Kunimori I (act. ca.1818-1843)


A geisha and her lover have looked for a quiet place away from the crowds inside the house. Their mutual attraction is sealed in their sensual exchange. The calmness outside is accentuated by the boats with hoisted sails in the background. The many dancing silhouettes in the house make us, the viewer, curious about the activities indoors.

silhouette art

Intruder observing an amorous couple through the latticed windows‘ (c.1826) from the series ‘Kaidan Yoru no Tono (Picture Book: Tales of Pussy in the Palace at Night aka.Vaginal Tales of the Nocturnal Palace)‘ by Utagawa Kunisada


A villain has climbed up against the highest floor of a well-secured house. He observes the silhouettes of his targets standing inside the apartment. This is a so-called shikake-e (trick picture) print that includes various flaps concealing surprising plot twists.  You can check out the violent and bloody climax by clicking here.

silhouette art

Shy girl with mature male‘ (c.1830) from the series ‘Go Chokujira Obi‘ attributed to Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)


The addition of the silhouette gives this design an intriguing twist, raising the question of what her motives are. Is she just an aroused voyeur or maybe a jealous lover.

silhouette art

A masturbating woman observing a couple in the other room‘ (c.1890) attributed to Tomioka Eisen (1864-1905)


An image of a woman stimulating her clitoris while observing the silhouettes of an intimate couple behind the transparent sliding doors.

silhouette art

A delightful overview of the inside of a Yoshiwara brothel‘ (c.1838) from the series ‘Shunshoku hana no shizuku’ (Erotic Drops of Flower Petals)‘ by Keisai Eisen (1797-1861)


A charming design that displays the insides of a brothel in perspective with multiple activities of geisha’s and their clients. Look for the subtle placement of the silhouettes in the background.

silouette art

Partygoers‘ (c.1820s) by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)


An amusing scene showing us the corny exchange between some drunk partygoers .

silhouette art

Young intimate couple at night observed by a young woman‘ (c.1760s) by Suzuki Harunobu (c.1725-1770)


A young couple clumsily experiment with their intimacy on a veranda in the backyard at night. In the illuminated room of the house a silhouette of a young woman is visible. She is peeking through a hole obsessively while making another one for a better view. In the background stands a wooden water basin.

silhouette art: Harunobu shunga

A couple has left the party to make love in another room‘ (c.1768) from the series ‘Enmusubi koi no uranai‘ by Suzuki Harunobu (Source: ‘Сюнга. Откровенное искусство Японии / Shunga. Explicit art of Japan’, 2016. Authors: A. E. Pushakova, K. G. Danelya)

in a tea house shunga

Couple in a tea house‘ (c.1850) from the series ‘Shin Yoshiwara'(New Yoshiwara)‘ by Utagawa school

Tea House

A couple making love on the floor of a bedroom in a tea house. The silhouettes of another intimate couple can be seen through the paper of the sliding doors.

Earlier we dedicated a post to a rare shunga scroll with nice silhouette paintings. You can check it out HERE…!!!