- Museum number
Painting, folding album. Twelve erotic scenes. Ink, colour, gold and silver on paper.The 12 scenes are as follows:
1. Couple in a room open to a moonlit summer landscape (male-female)
2. Mature man and youth in front of a screen painted with willow (male-male)
3. Male-female couple with pillow and discarded robe (male-female)
4. Mature man and youth with bedding and pillow (male-male)
5. Young man and Kabuki female role specialist (male-male)
6. Male-female couple with bedding, pillow and screen pasted with calligraphies (male-female)
7. Male-female couple and bedding (male-female)
8. Mature man and youth in front of a screen painted with riverboat scene (male-male)
9. Male-female couple and bedding (male-female)
10. Male-female couple and sleeping mat (male-female)
11. Mature man and youth with display of four hanging scroll paintings and suit of armour (male-male)
12. Man and travelling nun in front of a screen painted with Saigyo gazing at Mount Fuji (male-female)
- Production date
Height: 351 millimetres (album cover)
Height: 32 centimetres (each)
Width: 887 millimetres (Album open)
Width: 442 millimetres (album cover)
Width: 40.90 centimetres (each painting)
- Curator's comments
A feature of the present album is the equal balance given to scenes of male–female sex and male–male sex, with six pictures of each. Shudo-, sex with youths, was considered an alternative option to sex with women for mature males in this period, with little or no sense of social difficulty. This is reflected in popular literature of the day by authors such as Ihara Saikaku (1642–93; Clark et al 2013, cat. 31), as well as in the practices and customs of the male brothel districts near the kabuki theatres, which seem to have peaked in popularity around the Genroku era (1688–1704). The figures here are painted in the style of the leading shunga artist of the era, Torii Kiyonobu I (1664–1729), just as that style was changing around the Sho-toku era (1711–16) from the bold, expansive figures of his early paintings (Clark et al 2013, cat. 29), towards the more delicate and constrained style of his later works. The unidentified artist of the illustrated works took four of his compositions showing male–male sex directly from a signed set of prints by Kiyonobu I, which feature identifiable trainee kabuki actors providing services of prostitution to clients. However, in the paintings all the identifying crests of the actors have been removed, with the younger men now shown simply as generic ‘youths’ (wakashu). The set of prints has been accurately dated by ukiyo-e scholar Asano Shu-go-, based on the recorded periods of activity of the actors depicted, to around 1702–3. In picture ten a couple are shown making love on a sleeping mat with decorative borders, the woman lowering herself onto her lover. In picture eleven (left) two men are depicted having sex in an interior which is intensely coded with symbols of masculinity: a set of samurai armour prominent on a stand, a sword placed on the floor and four hanging-scroll paintings displayed along the walls, all of which have serious classical figure and landscape subjects completed in the masculine, Chinese-inflected ink-wash style. This composition also turns out to have a printed source, a double-page picture in the illustrated book Imayo- makura byo-bu (Pillow Screen in the Style of Today) of the 1680s by Hishikawa Moronobu (d. 1694). In the text that accompanies Moronobu’s image, we read of a samurai who sought to hide his lovemaking with a youth from his wife by saying that they were going to clean the armour together. She, of course, discovers them in flagrante and comments sarcastically to a companion that her husband seems to be galloping around the room on a human horse.… Here the figures have been redrawn to remove the women and put the youth on top, apparently admiring the paintings even as he is having sex. [TC]
Kiyonobu I was the most significant artist of erotic works during the first two decades of the 18th century. The most complete list of his erotic prints to date comprises eight sets of woodblock prints (each set has 12 sheets), and these have been dated between about 1702- and 1718 (see Lane 1995; Asano 2008 below).
The most important erotic painting by Kiyonobu I currently known is a handscroll of eleven scenes (one scene is presumed lost) in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Res. 09.234), which is signed and sealed and has been dated to the Hōei era (1704-11)(Boston 2001, no. 1). The rediscovery of this scroll in the MFA collection in the late 1990s was a major event in shunga studies.
The present unsigned work has many elements in common with the MFA scroll and was clearly created within the strong stylistic influence of Kiyonobu I; however the figure style is more delicate and the line quality less forceful. This may indicate a lesser artist, or a somewhat later date (if it is judged to be a work by Kiyonobu I himself). The style of figures done by ukiyo-e artists changed in general in the mid-1710, in a more delicate, less robust direction. A date of about Shōtoku era (1711-1716) is therefore proposed for the present album.
One feature of the present album is the equal balance given to scenes of male-female sex and male-male sex (six scenes of each). ‘Shudō’, sex with youths, was considered an addition option to sex with women for mature males in this period, with little or no sense of stigma. This is reflected in popular literature of the day by authors such as Ihara Saikaku; also in the customs of the pleasure quarters in Japanese cities. (None of the scenes in the MFA handscroll show male-male encounters.)
A series of monochrome erotic prints by Kiyonobu I (bearing his signature) in which all twelve scenes show male-male sex has recently come to light (it was not known to Lane in his publication of 1995). In each coupling, one of the pair is a young trainee Kabuki actor. In the period it was accepted that attractive young actors might also work as male prostitutes or be lovers to special patrons. When the set -- apparently unique and formerly in the collection of Shibui Kiyoshi -- was sold at Christies, New York in 2007 all of the young actors were identified by leading ukiyo-e scholar Asano Shūgō from their personal crests and the series was dated to c. 1702-3. Asano subsequently included the series in his published study of early ukiyo-e (Asano 2008, pp. 191-195).
Four of the paintings in the present album turn out to be close painted copies of prints in the set of Kiyonobu I male-male prints described above. However, the personal acting crests of the young men have been removed to turn them into more generic male-male sexual encounters (though still generally showing a mature man as the active partner in sex with a youth). The prints are stylistic more dynamic and there seems no room for doubt that the four paintings derive from four of the prints. No other printed sources have been found for the other eight paintings in the album.
The correspondences between the painted and printed albums are as follows:
Painted album Printed album
Painting 2 Asano fig. 31-5
Painting 4 Asano fig. 31-9
Painting 5 Asano fig. 31-12
Painting 8 Asano fig. 31-10
For a brief biography of Kiyonobu I see:
Clark, Timothy et al., Dawn of the Floating World (London: Royal Academy), pp. 50-51.
-Asano Shūgō, Hishikawa Moronobu to ukiyo-e no reimei (Tokyo University Press, 2008); esp. pp. 191-195.
-Boston, Museum of Fine Arts. Nikuhitsu ukiyo-e bekkan, ed. Tsuji Nobuo, (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2001). Painting no. 1 is the handscroll by Kiyonobu I.
-Kaneko Fusui, Kiyonobu no shunjū emaki (Hizō-ban ukiyo-e II) (Tokyo: Ryokuen Shobō, 1964).
-Lane, Richard. Shinpen shoki hanga makura-e. Tokyo, Gakken, 1995. Series nos. 16-19 and 57-60 are by Kiyonobu I.
(T. Clark, 12/2011)
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.1303 (Japanese Painting Additional Number)