Red Mount Fuji, Woodblock print, 1825
Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) Red Mount Fuji belongs to the style known as ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” This type of print is achieved by carving away at the surface of the woodblock so that the intended design may appear raised (i.e. a low relief is formed). Thus when the block is inked and then stamped on paper, the recessed regions do not appear in the image. Originally designed in black and white, the first woodblock prints required a single block for their creation; however, in 1765 new technology allowed for the creation of multi-colored prints (such as Red Mount Fuji), which became especially popular during Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868). This process required separate blocks for each individual color and had to be lined up perfectly. Therefore, because the process became exponentially more difficult as the number of colors employed increased, woodblock prints exhibiting a large variety colors were often quite expensive. However, many workshops used inexpensive dyes so that even those with modest incomes would be able to afford their prints.
Mount Fuji, located on Honshu Island, is the highest mountain in Japan. It has been designated a cultural heritage site and has served as inspiration for artists and poets for centuries. It also holds great spiritual significance, and has long been an object of religious pilgrimage (which may perhaps explain its idealized representation in Hokusai’s print).