New Book | Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty

Posted in books by Editor on March 22, 2021

This new, expanded paperback edition is distributed in North and South America by The U. of Chicago Press:

Julie Nelson Davis, Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (London: Reaktion Books, 2021), 296 pages, ISBN: 978-1789142358, $40.

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 1804, at the height of his success, Utamaro published a set of prints related to a banned historical novel. The prints, titled Hideyoshi and his Five Concubines, depicted the military ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife and concubines, and consequently, he was accused of insulting Hideyoshi’s dignity. Utamaro was sentenced to be handcuffed for fifty days and is thought to have been briefly imprisoned. According to some sources, the experience crushed him emotionally and ended his career as an artist.

In this new expanded edition, 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. Reconstructing the place of the ukiyo-e artist within the commercial print market, she demonstrates how Utamaro’s images participated in a larger spectacle of beauty in the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo).

Julie Nelson Davis is associate professor of East Asian art in the Department of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Dramatic Impressions: Japanese Theater Prints from the Gilbert Luber Collection.


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

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