Japanese prints of the XVIII –XIX century from the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts






pictures of sumō wrestlers

Ukiyo-e are popular pictures of the everyday life of the urban class in the Edo period. Originally the word ukiyo was used to designate one of the Buddhist categories and could be translated as "world of misery" or "world of sorrow". At the end of the 17th century ukiyo came to mean the modern world, the world of earthly joys and pleasure. The creation of Japanese ukiyo-e prints reached its heyday at the end of the 18th century. The main figures in ukiyo-e prints came to be representatives of the third estate: courtesans, actors, sumō wrestlers, characters from Japanese plays and legendary heroes.

Apart from the pleasure districts and kabuki theatre, contests between sumō wrestlers became a popular entertainment for town-dwellers in the Edo period. Sumō wrestling emerged as a special type of sport in the 17th century in the Kamigata region, where large towns such as Osaka and Kyōto were situated. This type of contest appeared in the city of Edo in the mid-18th century and its heyday was at the end of that century. The development of this genre, like that of the actor print, began for practical purposes in the form of posters and programmes. As in the case of kabuki theatre, a special style of calligraphic script emerged in the posters and programmes for sumō wrestling contests which has lasted to this day.

Many popular artists of the late-18th and early-19th century, who specialized in portraying beauties or actors, turned to the sumō-e genre, including Kitagawa Utamaro, Toshushai Sharaku and artists of the Katsukawa dynasty.

A distinct style emerged for the depiction of sumo wrestlers, who stood out on account of their height and great weight. In order to convey the gigantic proportions of the wrestlers, assistants are depicted next to them and the figure of the wrestler is arranged on the sheet, as if to convey that there is hardly enough room for it inside the space. Artists of the Utagawa dynasty depicted multi-figure processions of 19th-century sumo wrestlers and their feasts in polyptychs consisting of numerous sheets.