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







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.

The mitate-e genre is often translated from the Japanese as "analogue" or "parody pictures". It would be more appropriate to speak of an artistic device, when literary, religious or historical figures are depicted in contemporary garments or, on the contrary, when events are transposed to the distant past and placed in an ancient setting. Often such scenes were depicted as entertainments for beautiful women or as games played by children or animals. What led to this technique was, on the one hand, the need to obviate the authorities' ban on the depiction of contemporary political events or those of the recent past and, on the other, the endeavour of the artist or person commissioning the work to create a charade or rebus in which the beholder needed to guess the hidden meaning or coded verses of the classic poets of the past. Often the title of a print in the mitate-e genre contained the words fûryû (風流) meaning elegant or imayō (今様) which means modern. Unsurpassed masters of the mitate-e genre were Suzuki Harunobu and Kitagawa Utamaro.