18th Century Japanese scroll depicting gay erotic scenes goes to auction

Joseph McCormick March 12, 2016
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A Japanese scroll depicting gay erotica is going on sale at auction.

An 18th century hand scroll represents a good example of shunga, a Japanese term for erotic art, and will go on sale at Bonhams for the auction house’s Fine Japanese Works of Art event on 16 March.

The Director of Japanese Art at Bonhams, Jeff Olson, said: “I think that [gay shunga] was not typically portrayed.”

18th Century Japanese scroll depicting gay erotic scenes goes to auction

There aren’t many surviving examples of gay shunga, which were banned in 1722.

Olson went on: “Probably partially because there was a larger audience for male/female shunga. Not to say that there were not (and are not still extant) a fair number of examples of the subject.”

“I could be wrong, but I think there tend to be more printed examples as opposed to painted. I imagine that many of those that were produced got destroyed, or at least hidden after the arrival of Western travelers in the late 19th through the early 20th century. Victorian-era Europe and America tended to be a bit more prurient about sex,” he went on.

The scroll depicts ten scenes of gay erotica, and interestingly aren’t situated in domestic or outdoor settings.

Instead the scenes are shown against a golden background.

The characters embrace under blankets, spoon and mount one another in various sexual positions.

Created using ink, the scroll is made from 11 feet of silk, indicating, according to Olson, that its patron would have been wealthy.

18th Century Japanese scroll depicting gay erotic scenes goes to auction

It is estimated by Hypoallegic that the scrolls will fetch $35,000 to $45,000 when they go to auction in New York later this month.

Painted by Miyagawa Chosun, the size and material of the scroll indicate that it would be stationary display, rather than to be wrapped up and hidden away.

Despite appearing at first glance to be a male-female couple, the scroll actually depicts an older man with a younger lover.

While the scroll depicts gay sex, it is not believe that it would be any more scandalous than scrolls showing straight sex, which were typically more explicit. Both kinds would be intended for private viewings.

“In fact, there are relatively few acts of sex portrayed in the scroll,” Olson said. “Rather, a recurring theme of romantic love and tenderness between the lovers is depicted …. However, typically shunga will emphasize the genitalia, enlarge it (no pun intended), precisely because that was the whole point of the erotica.

“There was a voyeuristic element to it as well being somewhat irreverent and humorous. But the viewer wanted to see the details of the sex act.”

Earlier this month PinkNews looked at the way Ancient Romans looked at gay sex, and found that a lot of Roman poetry was very explicit!

More: Japan

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