Women and men - strong, proud, tragic or beautiful - from the heyday (1765-1865) of Japanese printmaking are this book's subject. It seeks to dig below the surface of the prints to describe the often subtle iconography employed in these masterful creations by the most famous artists of their time.
It begins with Suzuki Harunobu's subdued and introverted scenes of women seated on verandas. The book then moves on to the spectacular 'big face' (okubi-e) portraits of prostitutes and Kabuki actors by artists like Kitagawa Utamaro, Toshusai Sharaku and Utagawa Kunimasa.
Frail 'streetwalkers', forced by circumstance into the lowest ranks of prostitution, are transformed into elegant beauties, obscuring their tragic existence. The spectacle of heroes from Japan's rich mythological and pseudo-historical past crowd the printed sheet. Stern-faced actors drawn by the confident hands of Utagawa Toyokuni and his pupil Kunisada demonstrate the economy of line and powerful expression of the woodblock medium.
Each print is explored in the finest detail in order to explain the riddles of Ukiyo-e -the intriguing and captivating mode of visual expression that would have such a profound influence on Western art.