The artistic current known as ukiyo-e is probably one of the most beloved and famous cultural aspects of Japan. The expression means "images from the floating world". The sense of freedom and beauty inherent in the works of this genre that decreed its success. The ukiyo-style prints were initially born to be inserted as illustrations in the books. Over time, however, they were increasingly sought after by the inhabitants of the first large cities. Rich merchants and wealthy families commissioned works of this kind that depicted daily life moments, people, kabuki theatre scenes or landscapes.
This technique developed mainly within the Edo period (1603-1868) and reached world fame at the end of this and the subsequent Meiji period (1868-1912). The long era ranging from the battle of Sekigahara (1600) to the Boshin civil war (1868-69) was marked by bakufu, that is the absolute power of the powerful shōgun of the Tokugawa family.
During this phase Japan was structured according to a feudal system, and for more than two centuries it was forced to close contacts with the outside world (sakoku), except strictly commercial relations with Dutch and Chinese. These factors allowed a certain stability, during which the urban centers progressed, becoming lively cultural centers. Important schools of painting were born which produced famous artists.
The best known in the world are Katsuhika Hokusai (1760-1849), Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). With the reopening of contacts with the West in the second half of the 19th century, Japanese art suddenly entered European culture, which until then had only known it thanks to objects imported by Dutch merchants.
The influence was such that it led to the so-called phenomenon of Japonisme. Literature, fashion, music, cinema. The charm of Japan affected many aspects of Western social life. The most evident results were in painting. Many great European painters underwent the artistic influence of the Japanese masters: Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-lautrec, Manet, Klimt, and others.
The ukiyo-e technique was quite complex and a single work required more people (engraver, painter, carver, printer, etc.). Created the design, this was plotted and then glued on a wood board. The ink and printed (also in series) was then added. The process was repeated to have various layers of color. Initially ukiyo-and prints were only produced with black ink.