Suzuki Harunobu, Fashionable Snow, Moon and Flowers: Snow

Harunobu detail
detail

Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1724-70

Fashionable Snow, Moon and Flowers: Snow
(Furyu Setsugekka: Yuki)

signed Suzuki Harunobu ga, ca. 1768-69

chuban tate-e 11 by 8 in., 27.8 by 20.3 cm

An elegant beauty is accompanied by two young girls and a male servant who holds an umbrella to shelter her from falling snow. Seeking the warmth within her layers of clothing, she tucks her chin into her collar, and hides her hands within the robes. Her brocade obi is tied in a large knot at the front identifying her as a courtesan, and her pink outer-robe is decorated with folding fans and braches of blossoming plum- a wishful harbinger of early spring. The two young girls in her retinue, attired in matching apparel and sharing their own smaller umbrella, are her kamuro- children attendants assigned to a specific courtesan of ranking house. The fresh snow gathers in clumps around the platforms of their lacquered geta (raised sandals) while large flakes of falling snow contrast against the pale grey pigment in the background with some areas of oxidation which emphasizes an evening setting. The procession is likely en route to an assignation: parading the courtesan with her attendants in all of their collective splendor was an important opportunity for pageantry in the ritual of seduction in the pleasure quarters.

This design is part of a group of three which reference the classical trio of Snow, Moon and Flowers (Settsugekka), from a poem by Bai Juyi (772-846) which is included in the anthology Wa-Kan roei shu (734). The poem on the print above the stylized cloud focuses on the snow.

Shirotae no
masago no ue ni
furisomete
omoishi yori mo
tsumoru yuki kana

On the pure white of
the sand it has started to
fall, sinking in: just
look how the snow is piling
up, deeper than expected!

Waterhouse records only two other impressions of this design which he dates to circa 1768-69. One is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acquisition no. 06.465); the other is in the collection of The New York Public Library (acquisition no. 135, D-12). He identifies four other examples as either late impressions from the 19th century with recarved color blocks or reproduction prints.

References:
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2013, Vol. I, p. 211, cat. 342 (from the Spaulding Collection, accession no. 21.4498) and poem translation

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