Keisai Eisen


A Pocket Mirror of Beauties- Six Immortal Poets of the Era: Ariwara no Narihira
(Bijin kaichu kagami- Jisei rokkassen: Ariwara no Narihira)

signed Keisai Eisen, with publisher's seal Senichi (Izumiya Ichibei of Kansendo), ca. 1826-28

oban tate-e 14 7/8 by 10 in., 37.8 by 25.4 cm

A high ranking-courtesan strikes a pose while looking over her shoulder. She wears a kimono the color of green tea over a beni-dyed robe with white kanoko (fawn spots), with an unusual repetition of pattern of scattered maple leaves on the collars of both. Another inner robe has a collar with a sophisticated pattern of plum blossoms over geometric sayagata (interlocked 'manji') suggestive of blue and white porcelain. Her hair is adorned with gold lacquer ornaments, and she wears iridescent green sasabeni ('bamboo rouge' from safflower) on her lower lip. The vogue for iridescent lips, achieved with multiple applications of the expensive beni, came into fashion in the late 18th century, and Eisen frequently illustrated the 'retro' embellishment on bust portraits of women in the 1820s (as in, 'what's old is new again').

While the title, 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 renowned beauties of the moment. The maple leaves on the oiran's collar identify the subject as compared to the immortal poet Ariwara no Narihira (825-880 A.D.), and thought to be the hero of the Tale of Ise. One the most famous verses from the tale references maple leaves.

Kamiyo mo kikazu
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

-Tale of Ise,
verse no. 106

Helen Craig McCullough, trans., Tale of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from the Tenth Century Japan, Stamford University Press, 1968, p. 141
Jyuzou Suzuki, Meihinsen Ukiyo-e, Gyousei, 1991, Vol. VII, p. 158

(inv. no. 10-5350)

price: $8,500

Keisai Eisen



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site last updated
October 3, 2022

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475