- Museum number
Painting, handscroll, shunga. Twelve erotic encounters, of which two have been interpolated by a later artist. Ink, colour, gold and silver pigment, and gold and silver leaf on paper. Unsigned.
The twelve scenes are described as follows:
1. A mature samurai and a youth embrace under a bed-quilt. A woman adjusts the bedding.
2. A couple make love standing in front of a screen painted with a bamboo grove. A second woman tugs the hair of the woman making love.
3. A woman guides her lover's penis as they make love against discarded robes.
4. A couple make love beneath a white robe.
5. A Buddhist monk and nun make love against discarded scarlet robes.
6. [Later interpolation] A courtier wearing eboshi hat makes love to a court woman against robes.
7. A couple embrace as they lie against discarded robes, she fondles his penis and he holds her foot.
8. An older man wearing eboshi court hat makes and amorous advance to a naked court woman.
9. [Later interpolation] A couple make love, naked except for his scarlet loincloth.
10. Courtiers, still largely dressed, make love. His robe has a design of maple leaves.
11. A mature couple make love playfully with her scarlet sash tied around both their necks.
12. A couple making love are interrupted by a pointing child. He wears a hunting cap.
- Production date
Height: 31.70 centimetres (each scene)
Width: 36.80 centimetres (each scene (maximum))
Width: 34 centimetres (each scene (minimum))
- Curator's comments
Much mystery still surrounds the painted shunga handscrolls of the seventeenth century, including a number which are presumed to date from before printed erotic books began to appear in the 1650s. By far the largest group so far introduced are the forty-five handscrolls, including fragments, published by ukiyo-e scholar Richard Lane in 1979.1 Of these, one group of fragments, dated 1604, is attributed to Hasegawa So-taku (d. 1611?);2 one hanging-scroll painting by Iwasa Katsushige is dated 1647;3 and another incomplete handscroll has the signature of Kano To - un (1625–94).4 Otherwise, all the works are unsigned and Lane classifies them using painting-school names – Kano, Tosa, genre, early ukiyo-e, etc. – sometimes applied in combination. The present scroll is a work of great tenderness and delicacy, and was completed using high-quality pigments, sometimes painted over areas of gold-leaf. The dense clouds of finely cut gold- and silver-leaf in the background are demonstrably original to the scroll. Clearly this is a work created for a highranking, wealthy patron. Its value is further heightened by the fact that the figure style can be attributed with confidence to a painter of the leading Kano school, working in Kyoto in the early seventeenth century, in the lineage of the great Kano Eitoku (1543–90) and his sons Mitsunobu (1565–1608) and Takanobu (1571–1618). This is particularly apparent in the faces of some of the male protagonists, with their prominent, high-ridged noses and generally noble features. One feature of early shunga handscrolls is that particular erotic scenarios are repeated with only minor variation, irrespective of the school affiliation of the artist. Painters seem to draw from a common pool of compositions, doubtless copying from earlier, now lost versions. In the present scroll, scenes such as the couple making love standing up, who are interrupted by a second women (picture two; compare Clark et al 2013, p. 72, fig. 9), and the scene of love games involving a sash tied around the lovers’ necks (Clark et al 2013, no. 11) are also found in several handscrolls published by Lane in 1979. Two of the twelve scenes in the scroll (Clark et al 2013, nos. 6 and 9) have been interpolated by a later artist working in a simpler style. This reaffirms the talismanic belief that a shunga handscroll must have twelve scenes to be complete. [TC]
Early erotic Japanese paintings (i.e., pre-Ukiyo-e school, before the final quarter of the 17th century) by artists working in any school or style are rare. The only attempt to treat the subject at all comprehensively is Richard Lane, The Early Shunga Scroll, Tokyo, Gabundō, 1979. The plates section of this study publishes complete colour images of 45 handscrolls (or fragments of handscrolls). Of these, only three are signed and tentatively accepted by Lane as genuine: 1) a work by Hasegawa Sōtaku (d. 1611?), dated 1604; 2) a worked signed by Kano Tōun (1625-1694; ‘Swiss Collection’); 3) a work in hanging scroll format signed by Matabei’s son Iwasa Katsushige (dates), dated 1647. Since the publication of Lane’s study in 1979, one more pair of early 17th century handscrolls signed by an unrecorded artist, Hasegawa Tōsen, have come to light (Private Collection, Copenhagen). There is considerable uncertainty about how to classify the early unsigned erotic works that survive: again, only Richard Lane attempted this in his published research that spanned 1968-1978. Lane came up with no less than 16 permutations of school/style names to try to map the phenomenon and later scholars have floundered.
The present scroll is a work of great tenderness and delicacy and is done using very high-quality pigments, sometime painted over areas of gold-leaf. Clearly this is a work done for a high-ranking, wealthy patron. The particular additional value of the work is that the figures are done in a style that can be attributed with confidence to a painter of the leading Kano school, working in Kyoto in the lineage of the great Kano Eitoku (1543-90) and his sons Mitsunobu (1565-1608) and Takanobu (1571-1618) and adopted son Sanraku (1559-1635). This is particularly apparent in the faces of some of the male protagonists, with their prominent, high-ridged noses and generally noble features. Compare, for instance, with the male figures in such works by Eitoku as the pair of screens of Immortals and Scholars (Important Cultural Property, Kyoto National Museum), and the sliding door paintings Immortals (Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto). Details of some of these faces are reproduced in the exhibition catalogue Kano Eitoku, Kyoto National Museum, 2007, pp. 274-275.
One feature of the early scrolls as a genre is that particular erotic scenarios are repeated with only minor variation, irrespective of the school affiliation of the artist. Painters seem to draw from a common pool of compositions, doubtless copying from earlier, now lost versions. In the case of the present scroll, scenes such as the couple making love standing up, who are interrupted by a second woman (scene no. 2), and the scene of love games involving a sash tied around the lovers’ necks (no. 11) are found in several other of the handscrolls published by Lane in 1979. However, the quality of conception and technical finesse of the present scroll ranks it among the very finest of the currently known versions. The second scene, in which the lovers are standing up, includes as a setting a free-standing screen (tsuitate), with a bold design of a bamboo grove that has a background dramatically divided along the diagonal between gold and silver leaf. This bold, luxurious style of screen painting is characteristic of the Momoyama period (1573-1615). (T. Clark, 7/2012)
The present scroll is apparently unrecorded. It does not appear in Richard Lane, The Early Shunga Scroll, Tokyo, Gabundō, 1979.
Tim Clark discussed the issues surrounding the attribution of this and other early erotic scrolls in his lecture ‘Shunga Paintings before Ukiyo-e’ at the workshop Shunga – Erotic Art in a Comparative Context, (SOAS, Univ. of London, 21 May 2011).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
2015 19 Sep-2016 23 Dec, Tokyo, Eisei Bunko Museum, Shunga
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.1306 (Japanese Painting Number)