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Through a selection of more than 200 works, the fantastic floating world of ukiyo-e lands at Palau Martorell, a real journey to discover the elegant and refined atmosphere of the Japanese country.


In addition to the presence of the most prestigious Japanese artists of the time, the exhibition offers a complete overview of Japanese life in the nineteenth century through the exhibition of samurai armor, kimonos, objects and photographs.


The journey through seven sections meanders between the persuasive feminine world of the geisha and the legend of the faithful samurai warriors. The cultural world is immortalized in portraits of actors and scenes from nō and kabuki theater, and the world of nature is idealized through paintings of flowers, birds and landscapes.



Ukiyo-e are woodblock prints, a relief printing technique of Chinese origin that dates back to the Han period (206 BC–AD 220). They were probably imported to Japan around the seventh century AD. Unlike in the West, where prints are usually made by individual artists, Japanese ukiyo-e required the coordinated eorts of several people. This publishing process facilitated their distribution.

After sketching the drawing (shita-e) on a thin piece of paper, the artist gave it to the block cutter, who glued it face-down on a wood block and carved over it, leaving the parts to be printed in relief. This produced the master or key block (hanshishi). The printer then created a set of ‑fteen key-block proofs (kyōgōzuri) in black on which the artist noted where the colours should go, one for each page.

Following the artist’s instructions, the block cutter subsequently carved a block for each dierent colour. The key block was used ‑rst, printing the outlines of the drawing, then the colour blocks were applied, beginning with those that required greater precision and occupied smaller areas.

Inking was done with a pad or baren made of compacted paper discs, and the printing registration marks consisted of an L-shaped guide in the lower right corner known as a kento and a line along the upper left edge. Approximately two hundred copies a day could be printed using this system.

In the culture of the Edo period (1603–1868), initially only black sumi versions of ukiyo-e were distributed; later, in the early 18th century, hand-coloured sumi prints became available, rst in red and orange and later in green, yellow and pink. Finally, in the mid-1700s, full-colour prints known as nishiki-e or “brocade pictures” appeared.

When a work sold well, it was reprinted. Towards the end of the Meiji period, copies of the most popular works by masters of the past were made by contemporary artists, using the same techniques and preserving the original atmosphere. Later, when Japan opened up to foreign markets, these copies were mass-produced and lost their charm, becoming cold, lifeless replicas.

Eight thematic sections

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