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Beneath the Printed Pattern:
Display and Disguise in Ukiyo-e Bijinga

Wednesday, September 25, 2013- December 20, 2013

Class of 1912 Rare Book Room, Canaday Library.

Exhibition hours daily 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Opening Events

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
" Reading Pictures of Beauties."

Professor Julie Nelson Davis, University of Pennsylvania
4:30 Carpenter Library B21

Gallery reception to follow

5:30, Canaday Library Class of 1912 Rare Book Room

Both events are free and open to the public.

Bijinga, translated as “pictures of beautiful people,” are among the most recognizable Japanese prints of the sort known as ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world.” A bijinga depicts a beautiful person, a bijin - most often a beautiful woman.  Represented in many guises and formats, bijinga are idealized images of the courtesans and kabuki actors of thefloating world” of entertainment and leisure. On the surface, bijinga are a vibrant display of cascading kimonos. Akin to modern day fashion photography, every detail of the bijin’s posture is carefully arranged to emphasize the printed patterns of flora and fauna that adorn her layered kimonos. In early modern Japan, these “beauties” were at the heart of ukiyo-e and the vital print culture of Edo (present day Tokyo). Like advertisements of today, these women set the latest fashion trends and reflected the couture of the urban capital. As the seat of the Tokugawa shogun, Edo was then one of the largest city populations in the world, and despite strict regulations and sumptuary laws, fashion flourished in this metropolitan center. The production of luxurious kimonos peaked during the Edo period (1615-1868), and their illustration in ukiyo-e was an essential thread in the capital’s visual fabric.

In the exhibition Beneath the Printed Pattern, bijnga and related imagery are selected and grouped in order to articulate the complexities of the genre and provide the viewer with multiple entry points to the pictorial language of ukiyo-e. The exhibition, drawn form Bryn Mawr college's collections, is organized into five thematic sections: Sites of Display, Advertised Beauty, Unlikely Stages and the Illusion of Proximity, Classical References and the Connoisseur, and Details from Nature and the Keen Observer. Curated by graduate student in History of Art Anna Moblard Meier, the exhibition will open on September 25th, 2013 with a public lecture by University of Pennsylvania Professor and author of Utamaro and the Spectacle of Beauty (2007) Julie Nelson Davis.  Funding for the exhibition and related programs has been generously provided by the Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library.

The exhibition is free and open to the public.  For further information about this exhibition and related programs, please contact the Special Collections Department at 610-526-6576, directions to the College and information about parking, please visit