Suzuki Harunobu, Beside a Sleeping Samurai

Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1724-1770

Beside a Sleeping Samurai

from an untitled series; while an older man turns away to nap, the young couple entwine, her hand is clenched in a small fist as she deftly continues to give a back massage to her slumbering companion, at right are his daisho (pair of swords only permitted to samurai), an open door to a verandah looking out over a garden and the iris in a wall vase suggest it is early summer, ca. 1768

chuban yoko-e 8 1/8 by 11 1/4 in., 20.7 by 28.5 cm

The hanging scroll in the background with a painting of chrysanthemums and grasses is signed Shiseki ga, a likely reference to the Nanpin artist So Shiseki (1715-1786) who painted bird and flower subjects in a style he derived from the Chinese painter Song Ziyan (So Shigan) in Nagasaki. Shiseki was a leading Nagasaki artist and the teacher of Shiba Kokan (Harushige, 1757-1818), who also studied under Harunobu.

On the table there is a small folded packet with a label that reads "...oinasu" (old eggplant). Apparently oinasu was a medicine distinguished by a particular shade of yellow. In the Fujita Museum in Osaka there is a tea caddy named Oinasu which is accompanied by a document inscribed by the merchant-tea master Kamiya Sotan (1551-1635) explaining the inspiration for the name of the caddy: "The medicine, Oinasu's color, is yellow like an aged eggplant." Given the context of this product placement, it is likely that oinasu was an aphrodisiac.

A sumizuri-e version of this composition by Harunobu was posthumously published in 1771 in the three-volume ehon set, Imayo tsuma kagami (Mirror of Wives of Today). Shortly thereafter, Isoda Koryusai (ca. 1764-1789) adapted the figures in nearly exactly the same positions to a different interior with added dialogue which clarifies the intrigue for a design in his orihon, Furyu juniki no eiga (Prosperous Flowers of the Fashionable Twelve Months) which was published circa 1771-1773 (ninth month).

Reference:
Hayashi and Lane (eds.), The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga, no. 21, Harunobu, 1998, pl. 12

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Scholten Japanese Art
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