Women and East Asian Art

Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willows and the Moon

Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willows and the Moon, Katsukawa Shuncho, 18th century, woodcut, ukiyo-e, 15 x 10 3/8 in

Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willows and the Moon is a woodcut painting created by Katsukawa Shuncho during the Edo years of Japan.[1] This painting depicts two courtesans of mature age conversing with a “servant” girl holding Iris in her hands. The servant girl is rather young and is painted in a way that makes her appear as a courtesan in rising based on her “rich” appearance while the other two seem to have reached a mature age. In the background, the upper right corner of the painting is filled by the presence of a cut-off willow tree and the outline of the moon in the sky. The use of bold colors is also absent in this painting as objects are given definition based on a combination of dark and light shades. This painting embraces a restricted palette of colors where the definition is given by the use of lines to create depth and structure to the females’ appearance.

Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willows and the Moon

Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willows and the Moon

Similar to styles worn during the Edo period, the females’ garments resemble a relaxed version of a kimono with simple yet rich textual embroidery.[2] The courtesan in the far left is painted as having many layerings that give volume to her appearance. Her garment is also decorated with flowers embroidered at the bottom half of her figure and gives the appearance that flowers are falling around her. She is also holding a cloth that is embroidered with the outline of a dragon that signifies she has the most power and agency in this painting. The other two females don’t appear as powerful as the lady on the left, but their hairpieces and design add a flamboyant characteristic to their appearance. This combination of elegant designs alongside an intrinsic hairstyle embodies a sense of delicacy that reflects their beauty in a palpable way, creating feelings of purity and poshness.

 


1. Katsukawa Shuncho. “Courtesans with a Servant who Holds Iris, under Willlows and the Moon.” Dickinson College Trout Gallery, Carlisle, PA. 18th century. http://collections.troutgallery.org/Obj21162?sid=5061&x=366031

2. Kelly M. Foreman. “The Perfect Woman: Geisha, Etiquette, and the World of Japanese Traditional Arts.” In Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan, edited by Bardsley Jan and Miller Laura. 2011. London: University of California Press. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London. 67-69. <www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnb3n.8.> accessed November 26, 2019

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