Explicit and beautifully detailed, these works, produced between 1600 and 1900, have continued to influence manga, anime and Japanese tattoo art. The exhibition sheds new light on this taboo art form within Japanese social and cultural history. Parental guidance advised for visitors under 16.
Shunga is a Japanese term for erotic art. Most shunga are a type of ukiyo-e (floating world), usually executed in woodblock print format. While rare, there are extant erotic painted handscrolls which predate the Ukiyo-e movement. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; “spring” is a common euphemism for sex.
The ukiyo-e movement as a whole sought to express an idealisation of contemporary urban life and appeal to the new chōnin class. Following the aesthetics of everyday life, Edo period shunga varied widely in its depictions of sexuality. As a subset of ukiyo-e it was enjoyed by all social groups in the Edo period, despite being out of favour with the shogunate. Almost all ukiyo-e artists made shunga at some point in their careers, and it did not detract from their prestige as artists.
Classifying shunga as a kind of medieval pornography can be misleading in this respect.
The pictures below are especially selected for their slightly tamer nature. For the more explicit ones, go to the British Museum where around 170 original prints are on display.
Young Henry VIII revealed at National Library of Wales
Henry VII receiving the manuscript with – in the background to the top left – what is believed to be a young Henry VIII, weeping on the death of his mother
A long lost “royal treasure” with one of the earliest paintings of Henry VIII has been discovered at the National Library of Wales.
The manuscript was donated to the Aberystwyth library in 1921, but officials say they have only just realised its true significance.
One of its 34 pictures is believed to show 11-year-old Henry weeping at the empty bed of his mother, Elizabeth.
The library said the manuscript could be worth more than £1m.
Bound in wooden boards and covered with crimson velvet, the manuscript contains a late 15th Century passional – a book recounting the sufferings of saints and martyrs – depicting Jesus Christ’s last days on earth through a series of images and text, written in medieval French.
It also has the poem Le Miroir de la Mort (The Mirror of Death) by Georges Chastellain.
It is believed the manuscript was presented to Henry VII, Henry’s father, after the death of his wife Elizabeth of York.
One of the pictures shows Henry VII receiving the manuscript, while in the corner a young Henry is seen with his head down on what experts believe is his mother’s bed.
Dr Maredudd ap Huw, the library’s manuscripts librarian, has been re-interpreting the clues in the manuscript and concludes that it is a long-lost treasure from the royal library of Henry VII.
This detail of the picture shows an 11-year-old Henry VIII crying on the bed of his late mother
This is probably one of the most vulnerable depictions of Henry… it has him in mourning and is different to the later images of him as a swaggering warrior king”
Dr Maredudd ap HuwNational Library of Walesuscript contains an illumination showing the presentation of a volume to a monarch.
“Two girls wearing black head-dresses are shown in the background, together with a young boy weeping at a black-draped bed.
“Preliminary investigations suggest that these background figures may be the 13-year-old Princess Margaret, later wife of James IV of Scotland, seven-year-old Princess Mary, later wife of Louis XII of France, and 11-year-old Prince Henry, shortly after the death of their mother in February 1503.”
Dr ap Huw added: “We know from other sources that Henry VIII had a cold relationship with his father, but was very close to his mother.
“We know that the young Henry was devastated by the death of his mother.
“This is probably one of the most vulnerable depictions of Henry. It has him in mourning and is different to the later images of him as a swaggering warrior king.”
The manuscript was donated to the library by philanthropists Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog Hall, near Newtown, Powys.
It was originally owned by Lady Joan Guildford, who served in the household of Elizabeth of York and acted as governess to the royal princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor.
It is believed to have later travelled to Wales by descent in the possession of the Wynnes of Peniarth in Gwynedd, who also owned significant Welsh texts such as the Black Book of Carmarthen.
“What was an ordinary passional from the late 15th Century has turned out to be a royal treasure,” Dr ap Huw said.
“Its value has increased significantly and could be worth well over £1m because we have found this royal link.”
The manuscript was rediscovered when it was digitised so it could be viewed on the internet.