Why the ‘Great Wave’ has mystified art lovers for generations

A massive wave threatens to engulf three fishing boats, its foam crown extending like claws, menacing the rowers below. It’s an epic scene of human struggle and natural terror that dwarfs the sacred Mount Fuji just behind it.
This is “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and one of the world’s most iconic pieces of Asian art.
If this climactic moment seems ubiquitous — think T-shirts, coffee mugs, laptop decals — that’s because it was designed to be.
A visitor looks at Katsushika Hokusai's famous print, "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," at the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome.

A visitor looks at Katsushika Hokusai’s famous print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” at the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome. Credit: AFP Contributor/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

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