Feminine, The Appearance of a Castle-Toppler of the Tempo Era

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

Thirty-Two Aspects of Customs and Manners: Feminine, The Appearance of a Castle-Toppler of the Tempo Era [1830-1844]
(Fuzoku sanjuniso: shinayakaso tempo nenkan keisei no fuzoku)

signed Yoshitoshi ga, with artist's seal Taiso, carver's seal Wada koku, publisher's date and address seal Meiji nijuichinen, shigatsu, ichika; Tokyo Nihonbashi Bakurocho Nichome 14-banchi, Tsunajima Kamekichi (Meiji 21 [1888], April 1) of Tsujiokaya Kamekichi of Kinkido

oban tate-e 14 5/8 by 10 in., 37.3 by 25.5 cm

Keisei (lit.'castle-toppler') was a term used for high ranking courtesans which alluded to the influence (and havoc) a woman of extreme beauty and charm could have on men, even to the detriment of men of great power. Infamous castle-topplers beguiled emperors, and were credited with (or blamed for) bringing down entire regimes in the process, hence, toppling the castle. The most well-known such beauty was Yang Guifei, an Imperial Consort of the Chinese Tang Dynasty Emperor Ming Huang in the 8th century. The Emperor was so hopelessly in love he emptied the treasury to pay for her extravagant lifestyle and thereby incited a revolution.

The heavy brocade robes and elaborate gold lacquer hair ornaments worn by this courtesan are evocative of that 'castle-toppler' legacy. The production of this print reflects that opulence; the brass and metallic pigments, used to mimic gold thread, were expensive printing materials that were restricted to curb wasteful consumption during the Tenpo Reforms in 1841.

Regardless of their rank, courtesans paid for their lifestyle completely out of pocket, and were invariably burdened with personal debt. Such a high-ranking courtesan would have to pay not only for her own opulent dress, but for the food and clothing of her entourage as well, which could number up to eight attendants. Their status also demanded lavish and generous spending habits, placing an onerous burden on even the women of highest standing and coming at great personal expense.

References:
Keyes 1983, p. 482, no. 503.12
Segi 1985, p. 92, no. 103.10
van den Ing & Schaap 1992, p. 139, no. 63.10
Stevenson 1995, no. 10
Akita Museum of Modern of Art 1999, p. 46, no. 199
Seigle 2004, p. 12
Ota Memorial Museum of Art 2009, p. 12, no. 1.10

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