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Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), 1786-1865
A Contest of Beauties, Spring Dawn: Applying Moxa
(Bijin awase, Haru no akebono: Moxa)
signed Gototei Kunisada ga, with publisher's seal Ise (Iseya Rihei of Kinjudo), censor's seal kiwame, ca. 1822
oban tate-e 15 3/8 by 10 3/8 in., 38.9 by 26.3 cm
In this example a beauty is turned away from a mirror while she focuses on applying moxa, a form of dried mugwort which was applied while burning to certain areas of the body in a manner similar to acupuncture. Smoke curls upward from a stick of incense in a porcelain censer and from the moxa on her foot. Her duress in enduring the painful treatment is indicated by the wisps of hair that fall into her face and emphasized by her loosened waist sash and the disarray of the partially open drawers of her dressing table. Kunisada cleverly utilizes a mirror to focus attention like a spotlight on the hairstyle on the back of her head which would otherwise not be visible to the viewer.
In the right foreground is an example of product placement: a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder which was produced by a Mr. Sakamoto, who frequently arranged advertisements for his powder in prints featuring bijin or kabuki actors. The powder was named after Senjo, the poetry name of the actor Segawa Kikunojo III (1751-1810), a kabuki actor revered for his portrayals of female roles.
Mathew Welch & Yuiko Kimura-Tilford, Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011, p. 247, no. 208 (on Mr. Sakamoto and Bien Senjoko)