Hiroshige’s Shadow Puppet Guide

Utagawa Hiroshige is an artist that was known for his mastery of ukiyo-e, the art of woodblock-printed “pictures of the floating world.” Hiroshige is the last of the form’s masters, producing more than 8,000 works-- that’s a lot! Besides his inclination to produce prints of urban and rural landscapes, Hiroshige also created a set of instructional pictures for children on how to make shadow puppets: 

Hiroshige explains in clear and vivid images “how to twist your hands into a snail or rabbit or grasp a mat to mimic a bird perched on a branch,” writes Colossal’s Grace Ebert. “Appearing behind a translucent shoji screen, the clever figures range in difficulty from simple animals to sparring warriors and are complete with prop suggestions, written instructions for making the creatures move — ‘open your fingers within your sleeve to move the owl’s wings’ or ‘draw up your knee for the fox’s back’ — and guides for full-body contortions.” The difficulty curve does seem to rise rather sharply, beginning with puppets requiring little more than one’s hands and ending with full-body performances surely intended more for amusement than imitation.

Image credit: The Minneapolis Institute of Art 

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