Lover taking leave of a courtesan
Harunobu, Suzuki; designer; Japanese printmaker, 1724-1770
Colour print from woodblocks with blind embossing (kimedashi). Chûban, 269 x 212. Signed: Harunobu ga. c.1768.
given; 1913; Riches, Thomas Henry
The theme of lovers reluctantly parting at dawn is frequently encountered in Harunobu’s prints, usually with echoes of classical literature. According to Makura no sôshi (The pillow book) by Sei Shônagon (c.966-1017): ‘A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time ... Even when he is dressed he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash ... Indeed, one’s attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking.’ In this print, the woman catches at the man’s kimono as he prepares to knot its undertie. A kettle of sake for the cup of parting is on the cabinet behind the figures. His kimono has a white geometric symbol repeated on the sleeve, which is one of the crests (Genji mon) identifying the chapters in the classic novel Genji monogatari (The tale of Genji) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (c.973-1020). References to the novel were often made in this way on prints. Although the crest is difficult to make out here, another print of parting lovers by Harunobu with a similar male figure clearly bears the crest for chapter 48, Sawarabi (Early ferns). This chapter, like the rest of Genji, is full of poignant partings, but it does not seem to provide a specific analogy for either print. The gesture of tugging at the man’s robes to detain him may contain another allusion — to the famous kusazuri-biki, or ‘armour-seizing scene’, in Soga plays, in which Asahina Saburô prevents Soga Gorô from entering a banquet by seizing the skirt of his armour. Harunobu collaborated with Bunchô in the design of another print which explicitly parodies the ‘armour-seizing’ with a kneeling man pulling at the skirt of a courtesan, and with symbols identifying the Soga characters. On this occasion, the allusion is less explicit. This print is also encountered with variant blocks used for the wall on the right and for the slopes of Mount Fuji on the painted folding-screen. The screen is disposed in the picture so that the landscape almost appears like a view through a window.
Object Number: P.3522-R
(Paintings, Drawings and Prints)
(record id: 182466; input: 2011-03-29; modified: 2012-09-20)