Complete Illustrations of Yoshiwara Parodies of Kabuki: Courtesans of the MatsubayaArtist(s)Kitagawa UtamaroArtist NationalityJapanese (culture or style)Object Creation Date1798Medium & Supportwoodblock print on paperDimensions
14 7/16 in x 9 3/4 in (36.7 cm x 24.8 cm)Credit LineBequest of Margaret Watson ParkerLabel copy
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 (in the central triptych, with the dragon-design obi). Flanking her on either side are two shinzô apprentices, and at the right, two charming little kamuro or child attendants. By comparing the names with contemporary tourist guides to Yoshiwara, we can date the print to the spring of 1798.
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. So are we watching a playful enactment of a kabuki drama, with Sukeroku, Ikyû, and Agemaki? Or is the artist implying that the actor Danjûrô is vying with a wealthy merchant to become Yoso’oi’s lover?
Maribeth Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
"Courtesans, Cross-Dressers and the Girl Next Door: Images of the Feminine in Japanese Popular Prints"
March 9 - September 1, 2002Subject matter
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.Physical Description
This is a triptych, displaying all three panels at once. In the left panel, a woman squats, holding a book, on which stands a man holding an umbrella. Another standing woman looks over her shoulder at it. In the center panel, an older man is seated on a bench with a brush or pipe in his hand. A woman looks at him over her shoulder. In the right panel, two woman stand with two girls. One of the girls is half hidden behind the woman on the left and gesturing forward. The other girl looks up at the two woman. In the background are white flowering trees as well as some calligraphy.
This is a set with 1948/1.185 and 1948/1.186.
Primary Object ClassificationPrintCollection AreaAsianRights
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puppets (recreational artifacts)