From 14 September 2016, the Ashmolean Museum Broadway’s special exhibition from the Ashmolean Museum, will be exploring the bizarre and beguiling world of the Japanese supernatural.
Clare Pollard, Curator of Japanese Art at The Ashmolean Oxford, said: “This has been one of my very favourite exhibitions to curate. The subjects are so extraordinary and huge fun to work on – who can resist a gruesome ghost or a fearsome demon! I am very much looking forward to seeing it come together in the historic atmosphere of the museum in Broadway, which should provide a really wonderful setting.”
Giant spiders, dancing skeletons, winged goblins and hordes of ghostly warriors are among the spooky subjects depicted in this display of striking nineteenth-century woodblock prints, drawn from the Ashmolean Museum’s rich collection of Japanese art.
The exhibition is timed to coincide with Halloween, although in Japan ghosts are associated with the hot and humid summer months, when scary stories send a welcome shiver down the spine!
Belief in the supernatural is deep-rooted in the folklore of Japan. According to Japan’s native Shinto religion, spirits reside everywhere – in forests, fields, mountains, rivers and in the home.
The arrival of Buddhism during the sixth century AD brought with it a host more supernatural beings, and many Chinese folk tales of spirits and monsters were also absorbed into Japanese tradition.This varied population of ghostly beings has long been represented in Japanese art and literature; depicted in paintings and prints and turned into hair-raising dramas for the kabuki theatre.
The exhibition presents the Japanese supernatural as portrayed in ukiyo-e popular prints – mass-produced woodblock prints that were a product of the vibrant entertainment culture which thrived in Japan’s major cities during the Edo period (1600-1867).
Characterised by vivid colours and bold designs that made them hugely influential on Western artists in the late 1800s, ukiyo-e most commonly depicted the beautiful courtesans and kabuki actors who were the fashionable celebrities of their day. But print designers also vied with each other to satisfy the public’s appetite for images of the bizarre and the macabre, often drawing inspiration from kabuki Japanese Ghosts and Demons.
Woodblock prints from the Ashmolean Museum presents 16 colourful ukiyo-e prints, including a number of dramatic multiple sheet images that have rarely been on public display before. It focuses on works by the celebrated print designers Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), two of the most prolific and successful artists of their day.
The subjects depicted range from household objects that come to life to animals with supernatural powers, mischievous demons and the vengeful spirits of cruelly-wronged women such as the tragic Oiwa, who suffered an agonizing death after being poisoned by her husband and whose restless spirit returned to torment her murderer.
Liz Eyre, Vice Chairman of the Trustees at Broadway said, ” The trustees are so delighted, once again, to be working in partnership with the Ashmolean in Oxford. This new exhibition is both elegant, intriguing and fascinating. It is accessible on many levels – wonderful artwork, more learning about Japaneses folkculture and intriguing stories about creatures that have been part of Japan’s mythology for thousands of years.”
Copyright for Images: Ashmolean Museum