Floating Beauty: Japanese Woodblock Prints examines historical perspectives on women and their depiction in art in Edo Period Japan (1615 – 1858). Made up entirely of woodblock prints created in the ukiyo-e style, this exhibition highlights female characters in literature, kabuki theatre, and poetry; the courtesans and geisha of the Yoshiwara district; and wives and mothers from different social classes performing the duties of their station, in order to gain some insight into the lives of women in pre-modern Japan.
In the tradition of ukiyo-e, women are most often represented in the bijinga (“pictures of beautiful women”) genre. This was the feminine ideal, and these beauties were passive, attentive, and demure. Looking beyond the bijinga, this exhibition shows that women in Edo society took an active role in their own lives, and this fact is echoed in the literature and drama of the period. Over fifty woodblock prints will be featured in the exhibition, including works by ukiyo-e masters Suzuki Harunobu, Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kunisada, Kikugawa Eizan, and Utagawa Hiroshige. The entire exhibition is taken from the permanent collection of the Reading Public Museum.