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Unusual Ukiyo-e Formats: Hashira-e & Kakemono

The hashira-e, or pillar print, is one of the least common print formats in the ukiyo-e tradition. At a standardized size of roughly 4 ½ by 28 inches, it was the narrowest print format produced during the Edo period. Its exaggerated verticality and slim width was originally intended for decoration of the interior supporting pillars in traditional Japanese architecture, hence the name, “pillar prints.” The prints would have been pasted to the pillars and exposed to the elements of the Japanese household, making those that have survived exceedingly rare and precious works of art.

The kakemono is double in width and slightly longer than the hashira-e print, at a standard size of 9 inches by 30 inches. But even these small variations in format created immense potential and limitations in the artist’s approach to the image.

While these more unusual sizes present their own challenges to the printing process, they also allow the artist to be experimental, imaginative, and innovative with the design’s compositional limitations. Artists soon realized that the format itself was freeing and unique, allowing for compositions that brimmed with the grace and emotion of artfully employed negative space and vertical dynamism. Subjects range from the traditional renderings of bijin (beautiful women), to legendary figures and heroes, to birds and flowers, but always the narrow plane of the hashira-e and kakemono format provided a daring space for artistic imagination and expression.