Since the second half of the nineteenth century , the magnificent color prints produced in Japan had become the object of widespread and obsessive collecting, which, over a century later, the same Count Guglielmo Coronini Cronberg who was responsible for the purchase did not escape. , in the seventies of the twentieth century , of a group of over 300 works including polychrome woodcuts and illustrations of volumes printed in black and white. Through a selection of the most valuable and significant specimens, the exhibition intends to tell the history, daily life, habits and customs of a country with a complex and highly refined culture, which Europeans for a long time perceived as the quintessence of exoticism.
During the more than two hundred and fifty years of the Tokugawa family's military rule (1603-1868), Japan had developed all the characteristics of a complex and modern society, marked by a high degree of literacy and a lively publishing market.
The prints produced between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries first of all celebrated the so-called " floating world " (ukiyo), that is the fashions, trends and places of entertainment that had developed within the cities: the pleasure districts, such as that of Yoshiwara, located in the northeastern area of Edo (today's Tōkyō), with its courtesans who attracted visitors from all over the country, and the theater districts, where kabuki actors, revered like movie stars, staged stories of unfortunate loves or dramatic revenge, inspired by the classics of literature or current events. The images of views, which established themselves as a specific genre at the beginning of the nineteenth century, instead reflected the interest in pilgrimages and domestic tourism, referring to the most ancient tradition of meisho (famous places) which became a real pictorial specialty .
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, alongside the traditional subjects, explicit references to the events that were marking the history and society of Japan entered the Meiji era (1868-1912) made their appearance in the prints: the opening to the West , the introduction of scientific and technological innovations, the industrialization process and the new national political structure that brought the imperial figure back to the center, as well as the events relating to the war conflict with China (1894-1895).
Finally, a substantial part of the works on display consists of pages from the very popular illustrated books, widely disseminated thanks to a thriving publishing market. Often made with the contribution of famous ukiyoe artists such as Suzuki Harunobu, Katsushika Hokusai and his students, they included works of all kinds: calligraphy texts, painting manuals, repertoires of animals and plants, representations of daily activities and travels, satirical images . Loose pages that, in their refined essentiality, help to offer a fascinating insight into Japanese society in a historical period of extraordinary cultural vitality and great transformations.