Hishikawa Moronobu (1630?-1694)

Moronobu, who is often called "the founder of ukiyoe," was born in Hota on the Boso Peninsula, in present-day Chiba Prefecture. His father is said to have been a brocade artisan producing nuihaku embroidery (using gold and silver thread) who had moved to the Kanto region from Kyoto. Moronobu left home for nearby Edo in 1662 to study painting. It is not known who his teacher was, but he learned the basic techniques that had been developed by the Kano school.

Before long he became active as a book illustrator, and there remain today more than 60 books bearing his signed illustrations. He also became well-known as a painter. Favorite subjects for his scroll and screen paintings included flower viewing at Ueno, people enjoying the evening breeze along the Sumida River in summer, and people attending plays. It seems that he received many contract orders, and some of his works were produced in ateliers where he employed several pupils. He was successful in popularizing some of his originally one-of-a-kind paintings by making near-copies as woodblock prints.

He produced a total of only 12 handscrolls, but each of these was later adapted to multiple production in the form of monochrome woodblock prints. Moronobu's pupils of a somewhat later generation experimented with large monochrome prints based on what were originally hand-painted bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) produced as hanging scrolls.

Moronobu's importance lies in his effective consolidation of the ephemeral styles of early genre painting and illustration. His style, one of controlled, powerful brushstrokes and solid, dynamic figures, provided the groundwork for ukiyoe masters of the following two centuries.