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Seduction: Japan's Floating World

Beauty of the Kanbun era
approx. 1660–1680
Edo period (1615-1868)
Hanging scroll; ink, colors, and gold on paper.

Hanging-scroll paintings of beautiful young women first came into vogue during the Kanbun era (1661–1673). These charming pictures, known today as "Kanbun beauties," typically feature fashionably attired subjects posed against an unpainted silk or paper background. Here, a blue obi with scrolling flowers emphasizes the girl's narrow waist, and a sizable peony blossom, clasped in her right hand, symbolizes her youth and sexual appeal. Further enhancing the subject's allure are a stylish upswept coiffure (hyōgo mage), whitened skin, red lips, and a spectacular costume composed of a black short-sleeved robe (kosode) decorated with a bold, asymmetrical design in embroidered and tie-dyed patterns, worn over four brightly colored silk layers revealed at the collar and hem. The girl's extended arms, bent knees, and turned head create a sinuous dance-like movement, suggesting that she is an entertainer. The effect of the painting is of a private performance staged for a connoisseur of female beauty, skill, and style.

John C. Weber Collection

Image © John Bigelow Taylor.