- Museum number
Painting, handscroll, shunga. Erotic scenes: Couples making love. Ink, colour and gold on silk. Signed and sealed. With paulownia storage box.
- Production date
- 1688-1704 (c.)
Height: 32.60 centimetres
Width: 254 centimetres
- Curator's comments
The artist Morohira is presumed to have been a pupil of the great Hishikawa Moronobu (d. 1694). He is not known to have designed any sheet prints or illustrated books, and just a small number of signed paintings are recorded, all with a warm and rounded figure style that imitates the works of Moronobu’s final years. In the current absence of any securely attributed shunga paintings by Moronobu, this highquality handscroll using luxurious pigments on silk gives a good idea of what Moronobu’s works of this kind – for he surely did them – must have looked like. The present scroll is incomplete, with only six of the customary twelve scenes: in the first two pictures the couple are still dressed and so they likely come from the start of the original scroll; and in the final picture the artist has included his signature and seal, marking the end of the original scroll. So the fourth to ninth pictures of the original scroll are now missing from the centre of the present work. Picture four shows a scene in the pleasure quarter. A couple are having sex on a checkered quilt and the man holds out his sake cup to be filled by the girl servant (kamuro) of the courtesan, who seems to be laughing into her sleeve. In picture six the couple have their arms tenderly around each other’s shoulders and she gesticulates towards their conjoined genitals. In the early period of shunga production artists signed and sealed their works quite openly, using their habitual art-names, as here. This continued, to a degree, for privately commissioned painted works even after an official ban on ‘erotic books’ (ko-shokubon) in 1722. After this date all printed works were either issued anonymously or, from the later eighteenth century, using ‘hidden names’ (ingo-) (Clark et al 2013, cat. 76). [TC]
From the earliest anonymous Ukiyo-e woodblock prints that followed the great Edo fire of 1657 (some uniform enough in style to be attributed by Richard Lane to a 'Kambun Master') onwards, printed and painted erotica formed a vital part of the new artistic movement, springing from a long tradition of such painted handscrolls by generally anonymous artists working in the medieval Yamato-e style. Moronobu and his contemporary Sugimura Jihei (worked late Empo (1673-81)-Genroku (1688-1704) eras) both designed many erotic series, issued as printed albums, which celebrate the pleasures of lovemaking in a bold and unashamedly sensual manner. No erotic paintings by Moronobu have yet come to light, but they undoubtedly existed.
Erotic works are invariably in the discreet formats of the handscroll, album or illustrated book, often, as here, showing a sequence of twelve scenes. Though the lovers gradually undress, nudity is not featured for its own sake, and more attention is paid to the artistic possibilities of juxtaposing limbs with the gorgeousness of the costumes and accessories, as well as, of course, to illustrating the lovers' mutual pleasure.
Hishikawa Morohira is assumed to be a direct pupil of Moronobu, though his figure style also shows the influence of Miyagawa Choshun (clearly apparent here). The assurance of line, delicacy of flesh tones and skill at composition apparent in this rare work give a good indication of the splendour of Moronobu's now-lost erotic masterpieces.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 10 Oct - 2008 27 Jan, London, Barbican Gallery, 'Seduced: Art and Sex'.
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Asia painting number: Jap.Ptg.Add.533 (Japanese Painting Additional Number)