Spell of Amorous Love

1: A courtesan arrives to find her customer offering a sip of sake to her shinzo (teenage apprentice).

Attributed to Suzuki Harunobu and his followers, ca. 1724-1770

The Spell of Amorous Love
(Enshoku Koi no Urakata)

chuban orihon (folded album) with light grey cover delicately decorated with sumi ink irises and silver lines of mist, the title Enshoku koi no urakata, in black on rust-red paper slip; the forward with matching series title and a diagram with the Eight Divinatory Trigrams; the preface following the trigrams is signed Tenjiku Furai Sanjin, a pen name of the writer Hiraga Gennai (1728-1779) who was a friend of Harunobu, his text parodies Confucian classics as sexual edicts; followed by the twelve prints depicting erotic scenes throughout the seasons, most set in interiors that could be located in the pleasure quarters, ca. 1770

chuban orihon 7 1/2 by 5 1/8 in., 19.2 by 13 cm (folded)

each chuban yoko-e 7 1/2 by 10 in., 19.2 by 25.3 cm

The prints in this album do not have titles, text or dialogue to guide the viewer. Instead, we are allowed to piece together the story based on the visual clues provided, such as the neck of a shamisen in sheet six hints that the beauty holding a fan is likely a geisha. The view through the window of the figures walking in the rain is likely the Nihon Dike, which sets the scene in the second story of a building in or near the Yoshiwara. Although not specified, the twelve sheets seem to correspond with the twelve months of the year. In the first sheet we see a tray of prawns, a food associated with the New Year. The third sheet has a glimpse of a presentation that may be a Hina Doll display for Girl's Day, celebrated on the third day of the third month. The fourth sheet shows a flying cuckoo, a harbinger of spring. The fifth sheet shows the bottom half of a painting in red which would have been a depiction of the demon-queller Shoki, and image hung to ward off bad spirits on Boy's Day, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month. The moon and chrysanthemums in eighth sheet and the same flower in the ninth sheet are autumnal themes. The last sheet shows folding screen decorated with mallard ducks in a snowy landscape and a kotatsu (heating table) to set the scene in a cold winter month.


Compared to other shunga, the compositions in this album are relatively tame. There are no outrageous set-ups of unlikely situations or gravity-defying positions. Most scenes capture intimate, romantic moments in quiet quarters, with the exception of sheet seven which depicts a couple risking public exposure during the Tanabata Festival (celebrated in the seventh month) by hiding behind a bokasuiso (fire-prevention water tank). Half of the designs are actually abuna-e ('dangerous pictures'), suggestive, but not explicit.

Individual sheets from this series have been attributed to Harunobu or his followers Isoda Koryusai (ca. 1764-1789) and Ippitsusai Buncho (fl. ca. 1755-1790). Indeed, a case could be made for all particularly when considering the inconsistent stylized cloud bands. However, the consistent printing and color palette leaves no doubt that the plates of this orihon were produced en suite. See references for examples.

This album published:
Klompmakers, Japanese Erotic Prints,
pp. 26-51, cat. A1-A.12
Uhlenbeck and Winkel, Japanese Erotic Fantasies, 2005, p. 37, fig. 2 (sheet 7), p. 58, fig. 1 (trigrams diagram), pp. 89-90, cat. 14a-d

Riccar Art Museum (ed.), Exhibition of Ukiyo-e by Ippitsusai Buncho, 1978,
no. 138 (sheet 4, attributed to Buncho)
Tsubouchi Memorial Theater Museum, eds., Ippitsusai Buncho, 1991, p. 90,
pl. 153 (sheet 4, attributed to Buncho)
Shirakura and Hayakawa, Shunga: Japanese Erotic Art, 2009, p. 175,
no. 95 (sheet 8, attributed to Koryusai, and dated ca. 1776)
Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna,
www.mak.at, nos: KI 10560-1,
KI 10560-2, KI 10639 (sheets 1, 5, 6, attributed to Harunobu)




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site last updated
May 5, 2021

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
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