The son of a respected artisan in Awa province, Moronobu Hishikawa was born Moronobu Furuyama. He began his artistic career drawing embroidery patterns with his father, a textile dyer and embroiderer. In 1658, Moronobu moved to Edo to apprentice in painting, where he studied Kano, Tosa, Hasegawa, and genre painting, largely depicting bijin (beautiful women) in profile. He soon shifted his medium, becoming a prolific illustrator. His first known book is signed and dated 1672. Through monochrome woodblock printing Moronobu produced around 60 ehon (illustrated books), many albums of shunga (erotic prints), and single-sheet prints depicting the pleasure-filled world of Edo. The majority of these prints are unsigned and very few of the single prints survive today. He passed away in 1694.
Moronobu is considered the father of ukiyo-e. While some may credit him as the founder, this is not entirely accurate. Instead, his dramatic and innovative style represents the first mature form of ukiyo-e, consolidating earlier styles and setting the standard for artists to come. Moronobu’s prints play with parody and literary themes, taking established tales and framing them in the world of Edo. These works formed the basic styles and popular genres of ukiyo-e.