Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

255 × 200 × 25 mm
312 pages
138 illustrations, 121 in colour
18 Jan 2021

Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty Revised and Expanded Second Edition Julie Nelson Davis

Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) was one of the most influential artists working in the genre of ukiyo-e, ‘pictures of the floating world’, in late eighteenth-century Japan, and was widely appreciated for his prints of beautiful women. In this book, Julie Nelson Davis draws on a wide range of period sources, makes a close study of selected print sets and reinterprets Utamaro in the context of his times. Offering a new approach to issues of the status of the artist and the construction of gender, identity, sexuality and celebrity in the Edo period, and now in an updated edition containing a new preface and many new images, this book is a significant contribution to the field, and will be a key work for readers interested in Japanese arts and cultures.

‘By offering [a] new approach to the constructions of identity, to the roles of gender, sexuality and celebrity in the Edo period, Davis here makes a significant contribution to the field in showing us the constructed nature of the spectacle of beauty . . . her publishers have done her proud. Reaktion Books are always beautifully designed and this one, with its full-colour illustrations from all the Utamaro series, its art paper and its elegant binding is one of the best.’ — The Japan Times

‘This beautifully illustrated volume presents an engaging argument which will be of interest to a readership with prior knowledge of Edo art history.’ — The Art Book

‘Davis provides a succinct and credible overview of Utamaro's career, one devoid of the romanticized drama found in most treatments of this artist . . . Drawing on the research of Edo culture specialists, Davis treats the reader to a series of interesting and informative essays on such topics as the publishing industry, the Tenmei-era gesaku community, the history of the Yoshiwara and its protocols, the pseudoscience of physiognomy, and the Kansei reforms.’ — Monumenta Nipponica

‘Handsomely produced and copiously illustrated . . . Davis has written a book that skilfully synthesizes a broad range of historical, cultural and artistic data that underscore the degree to which the conventional understanding of the floating world artist is an illusion constructed with the collusion of the viewer. General reader and scholars alike will appreciate her careful analyses of the multi-layered visual and verbal meanings of Utamaro's most familiar print series.’ — Print Quarterly

Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty makes a significant contribution to the field of ukiyo-e studies by aptly showing that past readings of Utamaro as one au fait with the life of women has limited our understanding of the complexity of social factors that led to such a construct. By approaching her reading of theUtamaro style as the concept of a publishing industry geared to catering to the needs of the market, Davis opens up a broader reading of his work that reveals much about cultural and societal attitudes, particularly those related to the perception of women in the male-dominated Edo society.’ — Japanese Studies

Show all

Julie Nelson Davis is Professor of the History of Art (Modern East Asian) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Introduction: Utamaro, Ukiyo-e and the City of Prints

1 Constructing the Artist Known as Utamaro
2 ‘Pictures of Beauties’ and Other Social Physiognomies
3 Behind the Brocade and Other Yoshiwara Illusions
4 Utamaro and the Feminine Spectacle
5 Making History into the Pageant of the Floating World

Works Cited
List of Illustrations