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Japanese landscapes

Before the eighteenth century most Japanese artists followed the Chinese idea that for secular painting idealized landscapes were the most appropriate subject. Such landscapes were usually imaginary mountain scenes with high peaks, pine trees in mist, a waterfall and perhaps a lonely hut set beside a rocky path. When painting landscapes, Japanese artists followed the Chinese method of indicating recession by placing objects higher up the page. Kanō artists adopted this method as did the bunjinga ('scholar-painter') artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rimpa artists worked in a flat decorative style which was closer to pure design.

A few late eighteenth-century artists, especially Shiba Kōban, experimented with Western-style perspective learnt from the Dutch. Maruyama ōkyo began his career designing perspective views for viewing devices. Later he and other members of the Maruyama-Shijō school made more subtle use of unified spatial recession. For all these artists it gave them a revolutionary new way of showing space.

Ukiyo-e artists first used Western-style perspective in a very exaggerated fashion in uki-e ('perspective pictures'), mostly of indoor scenes. They did not start depicting pure landscape with any frequency until the 1830s, encouraged perhaps by the new enthusiasm for and freedom to travel and the publication of illustrated gazetteers of famous places (meisho sue) from the 1780s. From the 1830s, the publishers themselves made strong efforts to expand the print market by experimenting with new subjects - warrior prints, bird- and flower-prints and landscapes. The pigment Berlin Blue also came cheaply available. Above all others, Hiroshige took advantage of this situation producing the Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō in 1833-34, Famous Views in Sixty-odd Provinces, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo.

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Illustrated introduction to Michelangelo, £9.99

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