- Museum number
- Object: Yukun sennin 遊君仙人 (Courtesans - Immortals)
Illustrated book, folding album (ori-gajo). 11 openings with parody pictures (mitate-e) of courtesans representing immortals in various situations, e.g. the Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine, the Four Sleepers, Wang Ziqiao, Daruma, Chao Fu and Xu You and the Three Sake Tasters. Woodblock-printed images with titled cartouche, final image signed.
- Production date
- 1710 (ca.)
Height: 27.50 centimetres
Width: 19.20 millimetres (closed)
Width: 38.20 centimetres (open)
- Curator's comments
This illustration [final opening] is a parody of a well-known classical painting subject that showed the founders of the three great creeds of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. They are all drinking vinegar, and are forced into the uncharacteristic agreement that it tastes awful. Here the sages are represented by three types of prostitute: a bikuni entertainer; a high-ranked courtesan, and an apprentice (male) Kabuki actor. They are shown serving themselves from a barrel of sake (rice wine) with obvious enjoyment.A dozing courtesan, two attendants and pet cat impersonate the 'four sleepers' of medieval Zen painting.
The album Yûkun sennin ('Courtesans - Immortals') contains eleven black and white prints from what was probably a set of twelve. Each illustration humorously gives the three, usually female, figures the attributes of Chinese hermits and holy men in appropriate settings. Another page shows a coutesan conversing with the Immortal Gama, whose attribute is a toad.
The British Museum also has the wooden block used to print two of the illustrations, carved back-to-back on a single piece of cherry wood. Masanobu designed hundreds of such 'parody pictures' (mitate-e) in the early 18th century. The album was rebound and inscribed by Ota Nampo (1749-1823). (TTC, 1998)
Smith et al 1990
A classical painting subject showed the founders of the three great creeds of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism supping vinegar and forced into uncharacteristic agreement that it tastes awful. In Masanobu's breezy parody three types of prostitute - a 'bikuni' entertainer, a high-ranking courtesan and an apprentice Kabuki actor (right to left) - are serving themselves from a tub of sake.
The British Museum album contains eleven black and white woodblock prints from what must have been a set of twelve. The handwritten title reads 'Courtesans Imitating Taoist Immortals' ('Yukun sennin'), and in each illustration the women are humorously drawn with the attributes and in the iconographic settings of ancient Chinese hermits and holy men. This may be the most complete set to have survived. The British Museum also has one of the original wooden blocks used to print two of the designs in this album, carved back-to-back on a single board of cherry wood.
Shibui, Kiyoshi, "Masanobu no sumi-e", 'Ukiyo-e kenkyu', vol. VI, no. 3 (March 1929). Shibui knew of only this one illustration from the series.
Anderson, William, 'The Pictorial Arts of Japan', London, 1886, fig. 64.
Douglas, Robert Kennaway, 'Catalogue of Japanese Printed Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum acquired during the years 1899-1903', London, 1904, p. 38.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1996 Tokyo, Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan [Nishiki-e no tanjo: Edo shomin bunka no kaika, no. 5-1]
2010 Oct 19- 2011 Feb 14, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
2014 Oct- 2015 Apr, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
2016 Jan- Feb, Chiba, Japan, Chiba City Museum, "Ukiyo-e"
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Transferred from Department of Oriental Manuscripts, British Library (August 1915).
The album was rebound and inscribed by Ota Nampo.
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Japanese Illustrated Book number: JIB.44
Miscellaneous number: 1894,0213
Other BM number: 16115.d.9 (previous British Library shelfmark)