A courtesan seated, writing, early 1800s

This Japanese woodblock print was created by Kikugawa Eizan. It shows a lady sitting down and writing.

What can we learn about this woman?

This print is an example of Bijin-ga, a term used for pictures of beautiful women in Japanese ukiyo-e prints. What can we learn about her?

Face and hair

This woman seems to be lost in thought, writing a letter or poem perhaps.  She holds a paper scroll in one hand and holds the brush to her lips. At her feet is a small writing box.

In her hair, there is a number of large, ornamental hair pins called kanzashi. These were very fashionable in Japan in the early 1800s, but they look rather heavy and uncomfortable.

Kimono

The elaborate kimono she is wearing has many layers and patterns. Her foot just peeks out – this would have been rather racy for the time!

Within the design of her kimono is a bird motif – can you see it? What bird do you think it is?

Marks and seals

On the left, is the artist’s signature – Eizan has signed the work using the old form – Kikugawa Yeizan hitsu. ‘Hitsu’ (the bottom character of this detail) literally means “drew this”.

The circular mark is the ‘Kiwame’ seal and means “perfect/approved”. Technically it is more of a hallmark of quality rather than an approving censor seal, but some sources still refer to it as such.

The publisher’s mark is one of the Yamada-ya seals.

Author: Fiona Story, Creative Programme Officer

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