Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Julie N. Davis

Abstract

Beginning in the mid-1760s, images printed in more than five colors in early modern Japan were known as nishiki-e 錦絵, or “brocade pictures,” an appellation that signaled their visual richness in distinction to prints in monochrome or limited color. Most accounts of full-color printing locate the development of this technology and its visual impact in the medium of the single-sheet print, as part of the genre of ukiyo-e 浮世絵 (the “pictures of the floating world”). This project revises that view by considering the illustrated books produced in the full-color technique, which predate or appear contemporaneously with the so-called “nishiki-e revolution.” Closely analyzing the materiality and visual programs of these books reveals how their use of printed color not only constitutes an important shift in technical practices of printing, but also signals a wider engagement with the artistic, social, and scientific discourses of mid-eighteenth century Japan. Ranging from interest in the natural world to painting, from poetry to scientific classification, from elite milieux to commercial publishers, these illustrated books demonstrate the convergence of a diverse set of concerns upon the particular medium of the color-printed, thread-bound book.

The three case studies analyzed in this dissertation take up books differentiated by subject matter, style, and artistic genres. The first two chapters examine a book of fishes and its sequel, on the theme of plants and insects; both books are genre-bending works that combine concerns of poetry, natural studies, and painting. The third chapter considers two picture books of the floating world (ukiyo-ehon 浮世絵本), which feature actors and prostitutes of the pleasure quarter, respectively. Tracing the movement of printed “full color” from its emergence in the context of coterie poetry groups to its later status as a commercial imperative, this study reframes the earliest full-color illustrated books as critical artifacts of technological and epistemological change for picture-making and print in early modern Japan, centered around the materiality and conceptual power of color.

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