The Arranged Flower: Ikebana and Flora in Japanese Prints

Exhibition

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A work made of color woodblock print; chuban.
Flower Arranging, 1764–1774
Kitao Shigemasa

Ikebana (ike means “to arrange” and bana or hana means “flowers”) is one prominent and disciplined manifestation of the focus on nature in Japan. The practice emphasizes the lines formed by the placement of the leaves, branches, and twigs. A successful presentation also conveys a sense of harmony among the plants, the container, and the setting.

The artful display of flowers likely originated with arrangements dedicated to Buddhist deities in temples, where the presentation was meant to express the beauty of paradise. The first formal school of flower arranging developed in the 15th century. At that time, ikebana was practiced by priests, the warrior class, and members of the imperial court according to a strict set of rules. As other classes began to appreciate the art, the tradition expanded to accommodate less rigid styles.  

During the Edo period (1615–1868) an intense interest in botany flourished at all levels of society and went hand-in-hand with flower arranging. Seasonal changes were eagerly awaited. Woodblock prints record floral displays in gathering places and homes, often set in the tokonoma alcove that is a prominent architectural feature in many houses. The prints in this exhibition largely date to the Edo period. They show examples of arrangements that are formal and informal, ordinary and fantastic. In addition, several works on display are surimono—privately commissioned prints circulated among members of poetry circles on special occasions—which feature representations of flower arrangements.

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