This triptych shows courtesans in a garden of Yoshiwara under flowering trees. The inscribed names allow us to identify the women as courtesans of the Matsubaya House, centered on the grand courtesan Yoso’oi (in the central triptych, with the dragon-design obi). Flanking her on either side are two shinzô apprentices, and at the right, two kamuro or child attendants.
The courtesans at left interact with a puppet of the actor Ichikawa Danjûrô VI in his role as Sukeroku. The bearded older man in the center is the villain Hige no Ikyû, Sukeroku’s rival for the affections of the courtesan Agemaki.
In the realm of the kabuki theatre, nothing was what it appeared to be. Women were played by male actors, noblemen were played by the lowest caste, and stories that seemed to be set in distant history were trenchant commentaries on current affairs. The Edo audience delighted in double and triple entendre, and in the specialized know-ledge of the cognoscenti. Utamaro caters to that taste here.
At first glance, this print appears to be a conventional representation of the attractions of Yoshiwara. The inscribed names allow us to identify the women as courtesans of the Matsubaya House, centered on the grand courtesan Yoso’oi.
But this scene is more than a group portrait of a bevy of beauties; it is also a parody of a famous love triangle in the kabuki theatre. Theatre fans would recognize the puppet at left as an image of the actor Ichikawa Danjûrô VI in his role as Sukeroku, a swashbuckling avenger of the oppressed. That allows us in turn to identify the bearded older man in the center as the villain Hige no Ikyû, Sukeroku’s rival for the affections of the courtesan Agemaki.
Signed by the artist at the lower left: Utamaro hitsu, artist's seal partially superimposed over the last character;
Signed by the calligrapher at the upper left: Tokyo Santo Kyoden;
Utamaro's seal at the lower left: Utamaro; Kyoden's seals: Kikuken, Ha Sanjin;
Kyoden's kyoshi (comic poem) inscribed above the figures: Nebiki no kogane wa Amadani no kikusui o hakari Tsukidashi no sakazuki Sumida no morohaku o kumeri For the gold of redemption, the sweet valley's Chrysanthemum Water is measured out. From the proffered sake cup, the best wine of Sumida is drunk. Kyoden then caps the poem with a satire haiku: Saigyo mo Even Saigyo hasn't yet seen Mada minu hana no Such a flower of the brothel. Kuruwa kana
This is a portrait of courtesan and her attendant. The courtesan wears a kimono with overall cherry blossom patterns and a darker color cloak with fan, plover and wave design lining with overall cherry blossom design silk; the cloak is slipping from her right shoulder. Her obi is draped in front; it has overall hollyhock pattern. Her face is white; Her hair is sculpted like a balloon on the top and has broad wings to the side. Tortoise-shell comb and multiple hairpins adorn the hair. She is strolling toward the right. Her attendant is walking behind her, her face and body partially hidden by the courtesan. She wears the matching kimono with plover and wave design; her kimono has long sleeves (furisode), whose openings are tied with ribbons. Her obi, with peony and geometric design, is tied at the back. Her hair is in the similar shape as the courtesan but not too exaggerated. But she wears an enormous hair accessory consisting of cherry blossoms and tassels, made of silver. Her face is also in white. The painting is accompanied by poem written by Santô Kyôden with his signature and two seals. On the lower left, there are the artist's signature and seal. The mounting is made of silk brocade with embroidery in the design of clematis and millets.
Utamaro evokes for us the haunting beauty of a young courtesan— probably Hanaôgi of the Ôgiya—on the day of her formal debut, as she promenades under the cherry blossoms on Yoshiwara’s main avenue, with a child attendant in tow. The promenade was an annual ritual where Yoshiwara’s denizens stepped out in their finest robes to display their beauty and fine taste. Utamaro has chosen a subtle palette of white, black, and shades of gray, which captures our attention all the more for being unexpected. The only color comes from the red lips of the two and the dazzling brocade that frames the painting, a fragment of a courtesan’s kimono that is original to the work. It is tempting to think that it belonged to Hanaôgi, and thus completes her portrait.
The kneeling figure in the foreground is grand courtesan Hinatsuru. Her kamuro (attendant) is arranging a vase of chrysanthemums beside her. The circular inset contains a poet and his poem addressed to the two of them:
In its wake
The autumn grasses wither.
Indeed, the mountain wind
Has now become a gale.
In this print designed as an advertisement poster for the tea-house, the grand courtesan, Hinatsuru, which means “young crane,” and her kamuro (attendant) are depicted as elegant and desirable beauties. The circular inset contains a poet and his poem addressed to the two of them:
A woodblock print on paper depicting the image of a woman in a red robe and holding a smoking pipe. A corresponding poem inscribed at the top in both Chinese and Japanese.
A female prostitute wearing a red robe with a hood, disguising herself as the Bodhidharma. This is a parody of the fact that the nickname for a prostitute was daruma, an epithet for Bodhidharma. The image depicts an equivalence between the prostiue and the patriarch Bodhidharma.
Large, deep and wide ceramic bell-lipped bowl. It sits on a narrow base and curves outward. It is a greenish-gray color; the outside is streaked ith copper and dark brown colored streaks. Celadon glaze with crackle on the inside, with temoku register on the outside; red-color clay.
It is a medium size porcelain vase with pomegranate design in blue underglaze. The body is round with gentle shoulders; the mouth is wide and the neck is short and slightly inward. It has no foot. The pomegranate fruit and leaves are quickly executed with broad brush around the shoulder and the middle of the body. There is a band of a single line around the mouth and another around near the bottom. There is the artist’s signature “yû” on the eye. There is no foot but unglazed ring around the bottom; the eye is glazed.
Pomegranate is a popular motif in East Asian art, as it blessed with many seeds, represents the wish for numerous progeny and the attainment of sexual maturity by a woman (Reference: Baird, Merrily, Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design.)