Translated literally, the Japanese word SHUNGA means "Image of Spring".

But SHUNGA, as it is more commonly known, is actually a word for Japanese works of art, specifically Japanese erotic paintings that were made from the 16th to 18th centuries, by reputable painter of the Ukiyo-e (floating world) period.

At the time, purists of Japanese culture looked down upon SHUNGA art. While artists thoroughly enjoyed painting erotica, they rarely signed their works, preferring instead to remain anonymous and not harm their careers as more serious, classical artists.

While some SHUNGA canvases or prints (paintings on wood blocks) depicted sensual scenes of couples in love, others were intensely pornographic, revealing carnal love in all its splendour.

Artists exposed the human anatomy in full detail, without any concern for discretion or modesty. However, these works were always made with care and in good taste.

Some business minds of the time, who understood the market value of visual stimuli, would hire artists to paint SHUNGA art full time. They would then unveil the works in a hall, where middle-class citizens could come, stare and fantasize - all in exchange for a couple of yens. In a way, this marked the beginning of the pornographic industry as we know it today.

Often printed as tiny booklets called "pillow books", SHUNGA art also served as teaching guides for the sons and daughters of the Japanese bourgeoisie. From the paintings, they learned the art of foreplay, sexual positioning, and proper hygiene.

To this day, SHUNGA remains one of the hidden treasures of traditional Japanese art.



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