- Museum number
Painting, hanging scroll, mitate-e. Geisha riding side-saddle on ox, led by boy on beach; as a substitution for Sugawara no Michizane. Ink, colour and gold on silk. Signed and sealed.
- Production date
Height: 94.60 centimetres
Width: 32.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
British Museum Quarterly, vol. II, no. 3, p. 66.
When an Ukiyo-e painting shows a beauty in a somewhat unusual setting, this is often a clue that there are other layers of meaning intended - allusions to episodes from history or classical literature - a device known as 'mitate' (see Introduction, p. 21). This painting has in the past gone by the title of 'Geisha on a Pilgrimage to Enoshima' (an island linked to the shore by a causeway near Kamakura where there was a famous shrine to Benten, a popular destination for tourists from Edo), and, indeed, that is certainly its ostensible subject. An immaculately dressed geisha does not normally ride side-saddle on an ox, however, and there are additional references here to: (1) the goddess Benten who is sometimes portrayed seated on an ox (no. 124); and (2) an episode in the life of the ill-fated courtier and statesman Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), who died in lonely exile at Dazaifu in Kyushu as a result of the machinations of his rival, Fujiwara no Shihei. Legends concerning the life of Michizane (or Tenjin, as he was deified to placate his angry spirit shortly after his death) abounded in the Edo period and formed the basis of one of the most popular puppet and Kabuki plays ever written, 'Sugawara denju tenarai kagami' ('Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy'), first performed in 1746.
A colour woodblock-print diptych by Toyokuni records a scene in this play, not now generally performed, in which Yae, the faithful maid of his daughter, Princess Kariya, leads by a rope an ox on which Michizane (or Kan Shojo, as he is called in the play) is mounted (see Tokiwayama Bunko (eds), 'Kanko', exh. cat., 1965, fig. 70). The manner of drawing the ox is identical, down to the way in which one foreleg is bent back, and there can be little doubt that it is also Yae and Michizane who are being impersonated by the boy and the geisha in the present painting. The beach at Enoshima is presumably supposed to evoke Michizane's forlorn place of exile.
The painting can be placed in the last decade of Toyokuni's career, based on the similarity in signature and seals to a painting thought to relate to the visit to Edo by the actor Nakamura Utaemon III in 1818-19 ('NU', vol. 8 (1981), no. 6), and exhibits the characteristic brilliant colouring and immaculate attention to detail of works of this period. The unusual sense of modelling in the treatment of the waves derives ultimately from Western-style paintings by such artists as Shiba Kokan, possibly through the intermediary of Hokusai, who experimented with this style in woodblock prints during the decade c. 1800-10.
'(Hizo) Ukiyo-e taikan' ('Ukiyo-e Masterpieces in European Collections'), ed. Narazaki Muneshige. Vol. 1, Tokyo, Kodansha, 1987, BW no. 25.
芸者が牛に横座りし、童子がその牛をひいている。帆掛舟の浮かぶ海が背景に広がるところから、鎌倉から陸続きの小島江の島に、弁天参りにでも行くものと思われる。しかし、芸者は優美に煙管を手にし、髪や衣装も整っており、この姿で牛に乗って神社に行くというのは不可解である。衣装の梅模様も暗示的である。ティモシー•クラークは、歌舞伎「菅原伝授手習鑑」の一場面を描く豊国の錦絵3枚続が、本作品とよく似た図様をとることを指摘し、本作品の芸者が、九州の大宰府に流された菅原道真の見立である可能性を示唆している（Timothy Clark ‘Ukiyo-e Paintings in the British Museum’, London, BMP, 1992, P.135）。クラーク氏によれば、背景の荒波は、道真の流刑地を暗示する道具仕立となる。
さらにクラーク氏は、文化14年から文政2年にかけての中村歌右衛門江戸訪問時の作と考えられる豊国の1作品（楢崎宗重監修『肉筆浮世絵』第8巻 1981年 集英社 6図）に、本作品の落款が類似することから、本作品の制作時期を、豊国最晩年の10年間とし、鮮やかな色彩と精緻な細部描写というその時期の特徴をよく表す作品と位置付けている。
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Sugawara denju tenarai kagami 菅原伝授手習鑑 (Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy) (puppet and Kabuki play)
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.47 (Japanese Painting Additional Number)