- SHUNGA - EROTIC ART - PRINTS etc.
10 Controversial Erotic
Shunga Woodblock Prints.
Shunga, literally "Images of Spring", is the
generic term used to describe erotic prints, books, scrolls and
paintings of Japan.
As a dealer of Japanese woodblock
prints and shunga in particular I have come
accross numerous striking and evocative designs.
1. Underwater Rape
- Utamaro (1753 -1806)
following 10 shunga designs appeal to me and are
in no typical order. These prints I saw in books, on
auctions and in private collections.
This design is the first print from Utamaro's excellent Uta-makura
(Poem of the Pillow) -series published in 1788 and
depicts a complex scene with a awabi (abalone)
diver watching two kappa (underwater monsters)
assaulting a colleague under water. This apparent rape
scene is in reality the woman's own fantasie imagining a
violent sexual encounter. Also the tightly curled (for the
Japanese an expression of high sexual excitement)
indicates this is not a rape scene. (Illustrated in
Strangers in Paradise - R. Lane on p.14, Ill.131)
|2. Lesbian Couple -
Eiri (act. ca. 1789-1801)
From Eiri's magnificent Models
of Calligraphy published in 1801 an exciting
female-female love scene with one of the women (the
younger one) wearing a harigata (artificial
phallus) and holding a holding a sea shell containing some
kind of lubricant. The viewer is struck by the refined
beauty reminiscencing the erotic art of ancient Greece. (Illustrated
in Japanese Erotic Fantasies - C. Uhlenbeck and
M. Winkel on p.147, Ill.49c)
3. Chinese Couple
- Shigenobu (1787-1833)
An extraordinary and extreme scene from
Storm -series (late 1820s) involving a Chinese
Couple. The man with his plait curled on top of
his shaven head is extracting fluid from the
woman's vagina. In his book Sex and the Floating World
Timon Screech remarks that Keisai Eisen wrote that
such fluids were used as an aphrodisiac and rubbed
onto the male's genitals before intercourse. (Illustrated
in Japanese Erotic Fantasies - C.
Uhlenbeck and M. Winkel on p.177, Ill.65b)
4. Western Couple -
Another print from Shigenobu's same outstanding Willow
Storm -series a depiction of a Western couple. What's
so unique and striking about this design are the
Western influences imitating the shading effects of
Western copperplate etching. The Western man is
represented as a demon like figure. (Illustrated in
Japanese Erotic Fantasies - C. Uhlenbeck and M.
Winkel on p.177, Ill.65c)
5. Tea House -
Utamaro (1753 -1806)
Probably the most acclaimed oban (large format) print
within shunga from Utamaro's masterpiece Poem of the
Pillow -series depicting two lovers in a private room
in a teahouse. The high-quality printing technique, the
elegant flowing lines, the composition and the subtle
details such as the transparency of the clothing make this
one of the most coveted prints. It is whispered that the
male lover in this abuna-e (non-explicit print)
is actually Utamaro himself. (Illustrated in Japanese
Erotic Fantasies - C. Uhlenbeck and M. Winkel on
6. Country Girl -
Kiyonaga's Sleeve Scroll (Sode no maki) -series
(c.1785) is another highlight of the shunga genre
with its unique horizontal hashira-e (pillar
print) sized prints. One of the scenes involves a peasant
girl and her lover caught in a moment of ecstacy. The girl resting
her head on a bundle of charcoal sticks, with her toes
curled in sexual bliss. (Illustrated in Vol.24 of The
Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga - R. Lane)
after Kiyonaga's Sleeve Scroll
7. Miniature Man -
he sixth plate in 'The Fashionable Lusty Maneemon'
series (c.1770) by Harunobu depicts an intriguing
scene in the open air with a peasant girl being
taken from behind by a man wearing a mask.
Her parents are watching while the man claims he
is a descendant of Inari, the god of
rice. Maneemon also called 'Miniature
Man' or 'Imitation Man' who's the main protagonist
in this series is a comic mythical character
who sits relaxed under a tree on his straw
hat. (Illustrated in
Japanese Erotic Prints, Shunga by Harunobu &
Koryusai - Inge Klompmakers on p.65)
- Hokusai (1760-1849)
A scene with a totally nude couple in a soixante-neuf position
in a perfectly balanced composition. This print is from
Hokusai's most celebrated oban series Fukujuso
(The Adonis Plant) and is so distinguishing because
of the large scale of the portrayed figures. Some shunga
lovers call this image the 'Egg'.
in Vol.23 of The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga - R.
9. Dutchman -
Eiri (act. ca. 1789-1801)
A striking depicition of a Dutch captain having
intercourse with a beautiful courtesan. They are watched
(by the viewer) through a window of a Nagasaki brothel.
Behind them on a small table an incense burns in a
vessel. This specific detail is on a lot of shunga
designs depiciting this theme and it is said this use of
incense burning by courtesans was to drive away the
smell of their Western clients.
The long fingernails of
the Dutchman are also a striking detail.
were not allowed to live in Nagasaki but Japanese
courtesans were permitted to enter the compounds. Eiri's Models
of Calligraphy was inspired by Utamaro's Poem
of the Pillow which also has a Dutch couple.
in Vol.24 of The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga - R.
10. Octopus -
Last but definitely not least the most famous of all
shunga designs best known as The Dream of the
Fisherman's Wife from Hokusai's Young Pine
Saplings (Kinoe no komatsu) -series. A depiction
of an abalone diver abandoned in an ecstatic embrace with
two octopuses. For a long time collectors
and scholars thought this infinitely fascinating scene
to be a rape scene but this has been refuted by Danielle
Talerico who discovered that an Edo audience would have
associated the image with the legend of Tamatori.
Also the text in the image indicates the mutual
satisfaction between all involved protagonists.
of the prints treated in this article are
you are a shunga lover or collector please
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questions/inquiries on the items we are