History of Woodblock Printing

History of Woodblock Printing

Woodblock Printing has an extremely long history in Japan. The technique has been used in diverse art forms for at least twelve hundred (1200) years , including ban-e–a type of art depicting animals–printings of Buddhist scriptures and images, and picture scrolls.

Woodblock prints become common around the beginning of the Edo Era with advent of Hishikawa Moronobu’s ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The division of roles in producing the prints into painters, carvers and printers was established by this point.
As time passed, woodblock prints developed from simple monochrome works to ones featuring two and then three different colours of ink. In 1765, Suzuki Harunobu developed the nishiki-e, which made the use of more than ten different colours in a single print possible. With this advance, the technical aspects of woodblock printing achieved their highest levels.

Wood block printing arts subsequently reached their pinnacle with the realistic and richly detailed modes of expression established by many painters such as Kitagawa Utamaoro and Toshyusai Sharaku. Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige’s landscape prints at the end of the Edo Era flawlessly exhibited the exquisite colours of woodblock prints.

Today, Japanese woodblock prints enjoy a high reputation worldwide as superb works of art.