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Since The Turkish Baths (1863) by the French painter Ingres, the Far Eastern woman has, to many, been a symbol of out of reach or forbidden pleasures. Seafaring explorers, military adventurers and simple travellers from Europe over the centuries have all been enthralled by the exotic nature of the Asian woman, her foreignness accentuated by the gentle pallor of her skin. Thus arose the myth that she, of all women, was in possession of the knowledge of certain refined pleasures.
centuries 82 83 These philosophical detours can no doubt go some way to explain the delicacy of Chinese eroticism. Like a mantra, these pieces of information are repeated again and again in books about China. And yet, Asian eroticism still remains very enigmatic to western understanding. Painting on Silk from a Marriage-Book 18th and 19th centuries 84 85 As Westerners, we cannot help but wonder how sexual ecstasy can be combined with a technique that is so precisely worked out and that
117 Chinese sexuality criticises our ‘fallen and decadent state’ while hiding their own sexual conservatism and outdated morality. Perhaps I, too, am nothing more than a desperately decadent European who will never be able to find the path to the noble art that is love. Reverse Glass Painting Late 19th century, 34.5 x 23.2 cm 118 119 BETWEEN THE SUBLIME AND THE GROTESQUE – JAPANESE EROTIC ENGRAVINGS I n contrast with classical Japanese art, books of Ukiyo-e woodcarvings show ‘images of
where the greedy enjoyment of life is paramount and the pleasures of carnal love play an important role. Shunga, Erotic Print: Lovers Being Observed by a Maid from Behind a Screen Isoda Kory usai Colour woodblock print Private collection 126 127 Japanese woodcarving developed over a period of two centuries, between approximately 1670 and 1870. Utamaro, the undisputed master of colour woodcarving, was active for only three decades of this period, between 1770 and 1800. Japanese Shunga
awaken her sexual imagination but also to bring a particular visual pleasure to the person who contemplated them. Japanese Shunga (“Images of Springtime”) 18th and 19th centuries 140 141 Many of these books were destined for Yoshiwara, the pleasure district in the flourishing city of Edo, in the 17th century. During the Tokugawa period (1600-1853), the rich bourgeois of the big cities who had, Japanese Shunga (“Images of Springtime”) 18th and 19th centuries 142 143 during a long
courtesans, not omitting to mention the girls’ prices, of course. Lovers in the Private Second-Floor Room of a Tea-House, from the album Poem of the Pillow (Utamakura) 1788 Illustrated erotic book, volume one, nishiki-e, 25.5 x 37 cm Victoria & Albert Museum, London 146 147 These ‘love guides’ also contained information concerning the women’s characters: which of the concubines was particularly clever and innovative, who was loyal and who was sincere. Other books gave lists of intimate