Kitagawa Utamaro woodblock print

Kitagawa Utamaro, (1753-1806)

Renowned Beauties Likened to the Six Immortal Poets:
Appearing again, the Teahouse Waitress Naniwaya Okita
(Furyu rokkasen: Saishutsu Naniwaya Okita)

a bust-portrait of the teahouse waitress Naniwaya Okita holding a cup and saucer, the title cartouche with an inset portrait titled Narihira (the poet Ariwa no Narihira); signed Utamaro hitsu, publisher's seal Omiya (Gonkuro), ca. 1795-6

oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 9 7/8 in., 37 by 25 cm

This is a portrait of Okita, a waitress who worked at the Naniwaya teahouse near the Asakusa Temple. At the time this print was made, she would have been approximately seventeen. Okita was one of the most famous beauties in Edo; she was frequently depicted by Utamaro.

While the title, Furyu rokkasen, refers to the classic grouping of six 'immortal' (or great) waka poets of the 9th/10th centuries, in this context it would be understood as a collection of six reknowned beauties of the moment. The tie-dyed pattern on her collar is suggestive of maple leaves, which could be a poetic reference to the comparison with the immortal poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880 A.D.), who is thought to be the hero of the the Ise Monogatari ('Tale of Ise'). One the most famous verses from the tale references maple leaves.

Chihayaburu
Kamiyo mo kikazu
Tatsutagawa
Karakurenai ni
Mizu kukuru to wa

Unheard of
Even in the age
Of the mighty gods-
These deep crimson splashes
Dyed in Tatsuta's waters

References:
Tale of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from the Tenth Century Japan, verse, no. 106, translated by Helen Craig McCullough, Stamford University Press, 1968, p. 141
Shugo Asano and Timothy Clark, The Passionate Art of Kitagawa Utamaro, 1995, no. 227, text pp. 120-121; 168-169

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