Japanese Erotic Fantasy inside Pottery Shell | Shunga | Edo Period

Shown is a large ceramic shell that separates into two pieces, one of which has a three-dimensional carving of a couple, in traditional Japanese street clothing, having sex. “Tale of Genji” and other romances were the most common sources of imagery involving the depiction of ‘Shunga’. The piece is primitively painted, with amusing expressions, and detailed garments using water based paint. The piece is in good condition for its age. Dimensions: 5-0” w x 4-1/4”d x 2-0”h.

Additional Information —

In Japan, these candidly sexual images are known as Shunga or images of spring. They are part the ukiyo-e genre of art that emerged in Edo-period Japan. The term ukiyo-e means ‘pictures of the floating world’ or ‘pictures of the world of pleasures’.

The genre flourished particularly in Edo, (modern Tokyo). Although the theatre and houses of pleasure were common motifs in ukiyo-e, the majority of the genre’s erotic or Shunga images portray ordinary people: married couples of all ages, shy and inexperienced youngsters, adulterous wives and husbands, liaisons across class boundaries, and same-sex lovers.

Japan has a strong tradition of erotica and its people have held various associated beliefs. In the Japanese middle ages, the samurai believed that sex would safeguard them against misfortune. It was widely believed in the Edo period that placing Shunga in a building would provide protection against fire and as late as the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) soldiers carried erotic books, crafts and games with them as good-luck charms. 

Shunga was considered life-affirming and tolerant. It is also essentially humorous in subject matter and positions. The erotic images were enjoyed by all levels of society, and reached its pinnacle in the 18th century.

Although the general attitude towards Shunga was open and positive in the Edo period, the genre was subject to censorship at times. It was not until the late 19th century that the introduction of Western ideals and morals to the formerly closed society of Japan brought radical change. The immensely popular Shunga suddenly became “forbidden” images, and were hidden away in attics and closets.

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