Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1724-70
Courtesan and Shinzo with Pet Monkey
two beauties in an interior watching a trained monkey; signed Harunobu ga, ca. 1767-68
chuban tate-e 10 3/4 by 8 3/8 in., 27.2 by 21.3 cm
A courtesan, identified by her obi tied loosely in the front of her kimono, stands beside her kneeling shinzo (teenage apprentice) who is holding the long neck of an upright shamisen (the base of which is hidden behind the folds of her kimono). The courtesan balances a long tobacco pipe elegantly in her right hand while she touches her chin with the back of her left hand, apparently suppressing a giggle, a gesture mimicked by her shinzo as they both watch with amusement a trained monkey reaching towards them. The simian wears a short jacket and is tethered- presumably to a sarumawashi (monkey trainer) who is outside of the frame of the composition. In the background a noren (split curtain) is decorated with fiddlehead ferns, a fusuma is decorated with chrysanthemums, and panels above the tokonoma (display alcove) are decorated with irises. A small stack of books within the tokonoma suggest a certain sophistication of the room's occupants, the appearance of which has been momentarily abandoned in the company of the entertaining visitor.
While the sarumawashi and his/her charge was a favorite subject in the decorative arts (especially as netsuke); examples in the print format are not very common, and this particular design is rather scarce- Waterhouse records only three others.
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013, Vol. I, p. 177, cat. no. 273
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), accession no. JP1630
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