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The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection

Courtesan parading with two child attendants
approx. 1715, by Torii Kiyomasu I (Japanese, active 1700–1722)
Woodblock print; ink on paper

A beauty glances down at a black and white cat, perched on the shoulder of one of her two kamuro, or child attendants. The beauty's robe is worn off one shoulder with one hand pulled inside the right sleeve of her underrobe, and it is secured with a fronttied obi, in a style familiar from other pictures of high-ranking courtesans on parade. A pattern of four balance toys (yajirobee) on her underrobe sleeve might suggest something about her character—is she a fickle lover?—or it might refer to the instability of romantic life in the floating world. Scattered writing (chirashigaki) decorates her robe with a mix of bold kanji characters and more delicate cursive kana scripts. Two phrases are legible: ukiyo banare (removed to the "floating world"), on her sleeve, suggests indifference to customary attitudes, while hana arashi (storm of flowers), describes the blossoms swept from trees by an early spring wind — a metaphor for impermanence, or the obstacles that arise in life. Together these sentiments remind viewers to seize the ephemeral pleasures of life. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.4.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.