I-85. Japanese Illustrated Books, 1615–1868

Ellis Tinios

Commercial publishing flourished in Japan in the Tokugawa period (1615–1868). Book illustration came into its own in Japan by the closing decades of the seventeenth century. At first, the illustrations were printed in black only; color printing from multiple blocks was fully mastered by 1760. Thereafter color was commonly used in book production, although books with line only illustrations continued to be produced in large numbers to the end of the period. The success of these book illustrations depended upon the close collaboration of artists, copyists, blockcutters and printers under the supervision of publishers responsive to the demands of the market.This course provides an introduction to illustrated books and prints produced in Japan, 1615–1868. Topics to be covered include: overview of the history of the period; the physical characteristics of Japanese books and their modes of production and distribution (publishers, booksellers & book-lenders, readers, marketing); the major categories of Japanese illustrated books (painting manuals, copy books, picture books without words, poetry anthologies, novels, topographical studies, botanical surveys, erotica); books illustrated by artists of the Ukiyo-e, Nanga, Kanô and Maruyama-Shijô schools; the impact of imported Chinese books on Japanese book production; the development of single-sheet woodblock prints in the context of the history of the Japanese illustrated book; issues related to conserving, cataloguing, and describing Japanese books.

The course will combine daily lectures and discussions with hands-on sessions in which the class will have the opportunity to examine both books and prints. In their personal statement, students should describe any previous background they have had in the field; no previous knowledge of Japanese art or history is expected of those who apply for admission to this course.

Please note that this five-day course will be conducted in Washington, DC, at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Library, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and not at the University of Virginia.

Course History

Ellis Tinios taught this course annually during this period.
This course is not currently being offered.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


Ellis Tinios

Ellis Tinios

Ellis Tinios is Honorary Lecturer in the School of History, University of Leeds, visiting researcher at the Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto) and special assistant to the Japanese Section of the Department of Asia, British Museum. His recent publications include: Understanding Japanese Woodblock-Printed Illustrated Books: A Short Introduction to their History, Bibliography and Format with Suzuki Jun (Brill, 2013); Japanese Prints: Ukiyo-e in Edo, 1700–1900 (British Museum Press, 2010; reprinted 2014); “Hokusai and his Blockcutters” in Print Quarterly (Vol. XXXII No.2, June 2015); and “Japanese Illustrated Erotic Books in the Context of Commercial Publishing, 1660–1868″ in Japan Review (No. 26, Special Issue: Shunga, 2013). He has taught courses at RBS since 2004.

Full Bio »