The first non-religious printed book, a dictionary, was produced in 1590, and
other utilitarian works soon followed. The next advance was the production of
limited high-quality editions of Japanese literary classics, the first of
which appeared in 1608. In the 1620's, with the growth of literacy under the
peace and prosperity of the
production of cheaper, more numerous editions of illustrated versions of
these classics came about.
The artists and technicians who created these early illustrated books produced the foundations for the ukiyo-e which were originally mostly books of shun-ga. The earliest ukiyo-e prints, produced in the 1660's, appeared several years after the first ukiyo-e books. The earliest prints were sumizuri-e, printed in black ink on white paper, but tan-e prints, produced in the same way as tan-roku-bon, soon followed.
Although the colors were unstable, and usually fairly quickly underwent
chemical changes that changed them, the color scheme proved effective, and
this technique lasted well into the 1750's. However, the artists of ukiyo-e
clearly wanted something better, and the first attempt to reach past
tan-e were the so-called urushi-e (literally, 'lacquer
pictures'), which used the techniques of laquer-ware, including a number of
new colours such as red and yellow, along with gold dust, to produce
exquisite hand-coloured prints.
The early color-prints reproduced the simple red and green color scheme of
the tan-e prints, and were known as
benizuri-e. Experimentation soon added more colors, though, and
by the 1750's three or four colours were common.
At that point, the technical evolution of the ukiyo-e print was basically
complete. A few specialized techniques, many described
remained to be added to the artists' and printers' armoury. However, their
existence was not really needed to allow such later artists as
to create a breathtaking artistic form which has made an indelible
contribution to the world of art.
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