- Museum number
- Object: Fumi no kiyogaki 婦美の清書き (Neat Version of a Love Letter (or Pure Drawings of Female Beauty))
Album of eleven erotic colour woodblock prints (from a series of twelve), some designs after the 'Utamakura' of Utamaro.
- Production date
Height: 25 centimetres
Width: 35.90 centimetres
- Curator's comments
A set comprising thirteen images, originally mounted as a folding album with printed preface and additional erotic stories (see also Shunga, cat. 119). One print shows two women with a dildo. This type of dildo, with a cord attached, was intended to be worn by women, not men. When two women were playing together it was worn around the hips: when one woman was enjoying it alone, she tied it to her ankle. Here the woman wearing the dildo holds a shell-shaped container holding some kind of cream. She says, ‘Seeing as we’re going to do it like this, I’ll put lots of the cream on it. So really make yourself come. Without the cream this big one would not go in.’ The aphrodisiac cream is obviously being used as a lubricant. The other woman puts a hand up to the dildo and urges her friend, ‘Hurry up and put it in. I want to come. I want to come five or six times without stopping.’ This is not strictly speaking a lesbian encounter. In the Edo period it was widely believed that dildos were used by ladies-in-waiting in the women’s quarters of samurai mansions. They were necessary because this was a world without men, rather than being an expression of affective love between women. But were dildos really in widespread use among ladies-in-waiting in the Edo period? Surely this is, rather, ‘the world of the lady-in-waiting as imagined by common townspeople’. [TY]
The folding album of thirteen images (unusual, as one dozen is the norm) is attributed to Cho-kyo- sai Eiri, a little-known pupil of Hosoda Eishi (1756–1829). Eishi was a military-class (samurai) artist who began his painting career in the government-sponsored Kano school, but left in about 1785 to work in the popular ‘floating-world’, or ukiyo-e, style (Shunga, cat. nos. 56, 57, 87, 117). Thereafter, Eishi was rival for paramount fame with Utamaro, though Eishi had the greater number of pupils. Interestingly, in 1800, just months before the image shown here was published, a painting by Eishi was shown to retired monarch Go-Sakuramachi (1740–1813; r. 1762–70), allowing his use of the coveted title ‘viewed by Heaven’ (tenran). This startling collision of worlds, decent and indecent, illustrates just how interwoven the cultural circles were that today would be radically separated. Having said this, Go-Sakuramachi would probably have known nothing of the shunga production within Eishi’s circle, not least as she was an elderly lady (one of just two reigning females of the period).
One scene in the album shows a well-dressed European, surely intended to be a senior Dutch trader, with a Japanese women, who would be a Nagasaki courtesan. They are both heavily dressed for winter, but she leans out of an open Western-style window, suggesting that they are in the East India Company compound on the island of Dejima (which, of course, Eiri would never have seen). It is elegantly fragranced with burning incense. The European speaks gibberish, while the woman protests, ‘I can’t make out what you’re on about. Push it in tighter! What am I to do?!’ Eishi’s pupils did not have discernibly independent styles, and their work is often confused. This set has in the past sometimes been attributed to Eiri’s fellow student Cho-ko-sai Eisho- (c. 1790–9). As a comparison with the plate of foreigners from Utamaro’s series Utamakura confirms (Shunga, cat. 118), Eiri plagiarized a number of the compositions, or parts of compositions, from the earlier work. [TS]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017 Jul - Oct, London, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Desire, Love, Identity'
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Other BM number: Album.92
Other BM number: OA+,0.137