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Keisai Eisen, 1790-1848
Stylish Seven Komachi: Ono no Komachi at Sekidera
(Imayo nana komachi: Sekidera Komachi)
signed Keisai Eisen ga, with censor's seal kiwame and publisher's seal Sanoki (Sanoya Kihei), ca. 1825
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 10 1/8 in., 36.5 by 25.6 cm
A young beauty seated before a black lacquer dresser and mirror stand tilts her head down to her right as she carefully applies make-up to the back of her neck with a tissue. The backside of her dresser is open to reveal her cosmetics, including a packet of Bien Senjoko face powder whose owner, a Mr. Sakamoto, frequently arranged to have his product featured in woodblock prints. She is dressed in an understated dusky-blue to dark green kimono decorated with a pattern of grasses towards the padded hem, and we see the large folds of her brocade obi fanning out behind her. The obi tied at the back, the subdued palette of her elegant clothing, and the comparatively modest array of combs and hairpins all suggest that she may not be a courtesan (or at least not one of high rank), but perhaps a geisha, (professional entertainer) or an unmarried daughter in a well-appointed household.
The series title, Stylish Seven Komachi(Imayo nana komachi), revisits the classical theme of presenting beauties as compared to the legendary beauty of the immortal poet, Ono no Komachi (ca. 825-900), who is represented in the pictorial cartouche to the left of the series title. The apocryphal incidents from her life are told in a traditional grouping of seven Noh plays known collectively as the Nana Komachi (Seven Komachi). The episode referenced here, Sekidera Komachi, tells the story of the lonely poetess at the end of her life, full of remorse for the pride and vanity that she displayed as a young woman. Her cautionary message warning of the perils of vanity is alluded to by the beauty regarding herself in a mirror.
Rhode Island School of Design Museum (risdmuseum.org), accession no. 13.1386