ELLEN AVRIL: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Ellen Avril. I am the curator of Asian Arts. I'm the chief curator here at the Johnson Art Museum. It's my pleasure to welcome everyone today and thank you all for coming, and thank you to our audience who is watching this lecture on live stream.
Welcome to the 2017 Stoikov Lecture on Asian art. Through an endowment established by Judith Stoikov, Cornell class of 1963, the Johnson Museum is able to annually invite a distinguished scholar in Asian art to Cornell University to deliver a public lecture at the museum and to meet with one or more Cornell classes. We are deeply grateful to Judith Stoikov for the establishment of this lecture series and for the many ways that her generosity has benefited the Johnson Museum's Asian art collections, its exhibitions, and programs.
Judith Stoikov serves as a member of the Museum's advisory council and she is in the audience today. Please join me in thanking her for her generosity.
The annual Stoikov Lectureship is now in its sixth year and we are pleased to welcome John Carpenter, the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to deliver today's lecture. Before arriving at the Met in 2011, John Carpenter taught the history of Japanese art at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and he also served as the head of the London office of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture.
His teaching has also included visiting professorships at the University of Tokyo and the University of Heidelberg. Dr. Carpenter has published widely on Japanese art, especially in the areas of calligraphy, painting, and wood block prints. Among his recent publications is "Designing Nature, The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art," a catalog and an exhibition held at the Met in 2012.
He has organized other important exhibitions recently including The Flowering of Edo Period Painting, Japanese Masterworks from the Feinberg Collection in 2014, and has presented several rotations in the Met's Japanese galleries of highlights from a quest of Mary Griggs Burke's collection of Japanese art. As the New York Times has pointed out, and I quote, "since John T. Carpenter became curator in 2011, he has taken a permanent collection, shaken it up, threaded it through with strategic loans, and like a good teacher, unfurled it logically in graspable themes."
At present, Dr. Carpenter is working on a major loan exhibition of art related to the early 11th century Japanese literary classic, The Tale of Genji. During his two day visit at Cornell, Dr. Carpenter has conducted four sessions of close-looking at works of Japanese art pulled from the Johnson Museum's collection for students in Professor Brett de Bary's seminar on Japanese media, Dan McKee's Introduction to Japan, and Professor An-Yi Pan's Introduction to Japanese art history. We are grateful to John for so generously sharing his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm with these classes. Please give a warm welcome to John Carpenter.
JOHN CARPENTER: Thank you so much, Ellen. It's been a delightful visit here to the Cornell campus after so many years of not having a chance to make a visit, and it has been absolutely delightful to work with some of the students. I see some familiar faces in the audience. Thank you for coming back again. The students were engaging with some of the material for the first time, but I can say that I learned a lot from the comments made by the students and enjoyed it very much.
When I was asked to give a lecture here for the Stoikov Lecture Series I wasn't quite sure what would be appropriate. And I had been working on Ukiyo-e paintings recently and I said, well, why don't I focus on the subject of Ukiyo-e paintings and prints, both for the classes and for the lecture. And at the time I selected the topic it didn't occur to me that this would be the perfect topic to speak on at Cornell because, in the West, one of the great pioneering publications on the subject actually emanated from this campus, this very important catalog.
Japanese Painters of the Floating World, I was just reminded today, was published in 1966. This is when the whole field of Ukiyo-e painting emerged, not just in the West but also in Japan, and the two authors of the catalog, Marty Young and Robert Smith, brought together a number of important loans and for the first time explained the whole history of this subject. And I was delighted today when I could meet Kazuko Smith and tell her how much her husband's book meant to me as a graduate student when I came across it.
Ukiyo-e. I quizzed the students yesterday and today about what it meant. Ukiyo-e. It refers to the pictures of the floating world. The floating world refers to the pleasure quarters, also to the kabuki stage of the Edo period of the 17th to the 19th century.
This subject area is so well known in the West because of woodblock prints, the Ukiyo-e prints. But the topic of paintings was actually ignored for many years. There were many prominent collectors of woodblock prints in the West but few focused on the deluxe paintings. My lecture today will focus mostly on works from the Metropolitan's collection.
And I'll mention that I'm very lucky as a curator at the Met because in 2015 we received a great collection of paintings-- over 225 paintings-- from the collection of Mary Griggs Burke. She collected a few Ukiyo-e paintings, not a great number, but works such as this entered the collection. I'm going to use this as the foundation of my talk today and also end with a discussion of some of the works that I'm going to put on display next spring so that everyone in the audience has an excuse to go down to New York and see the exhibition, especially all the students. I want to see you there and I want to hear your comments on the paintings on display.
Mary Burke, I believe, became interested in Ukiyo-e paintings-- it was the first thing she collected-- in the 1960s. She came across a whole collection of Ukiyo-e paintings and she bought the whole collection even though she only wanted a dozen or so. But she mentioned that, "Japanese style and beauty first struck me when I saw my mother's kimono"-- an example like this-- "a padded winter one of black silk displaying at the knee a bold design of twisted pine branches covered with snow. I can remember putting it on and letting it trail behind me. I believe a future collector of Japanese art was born then."
Mary Burke went on for the next 30 or 40 years to build one of the finest collections of Japanese art in the West. It was displayed at Tokyo National Museum in 1985 and we've had several exhibitions at the Metropolitan. Many of the paintings I'm going to show you today were put on view last year in our galleries. I won't be showing you many examples of kimono but do pay attention at how important the depiction, the detailed depiction, of the kimono of courtesans, of high ranking ladies, how important it is to the entire aesthetic of Ukiyo-e paintings.
To begin the story we must go back a little farther back in time to understand how this style of painting emerged. After warfare came to an end at the end of the 16th century and into the early 17th century, there was a flourishing of genre painting, of paintings that were commissioned by samurai but not of samurai at battle. But for the first time in Japanese history samurai were commissioning pictures of themselves enjoying picnicking, viewing cherry blossoms, having a good time. For the first time in a century the country was at peace and this new genre of painting just showing samurai, for instance, enjoying famous spots in Kyoto during cherry blossom season or enjoying a little banquet outdoors with someone preparing sashimi, some of the samurai drinking a little bit too much and dancing. But they commissioned paintings on this theme.
And then a painting like this captures the very earliest stages of kabuki when it was performed in the first and second decade of the 17th century, not by male actors as happens today, but by young female performers. At this time kabuki was performed by young women cross-dressing as men. You had the male parts played by young women and the female parts played by young men. This cross-dressing, this transvestite performance added to this kind of frisson of the kabuki performance.
And it caused so much trouble that the shogun banned women's kabuki and said that all roles had to be performed, after 1629, by young men or by male performers. Well, it turned out that they had the same problems with male prostitution as they had previously had with female prostitution and so kabuki finally, by the 1650's, had to ban both young female, young male performers. And that was the beginning of kabuki as we know it with complex plots, with adult male actors performing all roles male and female. And that's the kind of classic theater that you can see performed today.
But it all started here on the banks of the Kamo river in Kyoto where people could gather and enjoy the bustle of a kabuki performance. You could see people from all walks of life along the river banks which dried up during the summertime so it was untaxed, unlicensed land, and they allowed performers of all types. And here you have monks collecting alms as women from the palace would stroll with their parasols in their elegant costumes.
And at the same time that women's kabuki was taking place, just a few miles up the road-- less than a mile up the road-- there were brothels where men could meet the young kabuki dancers [INAUDIBLE]. And you have this type of painting, a genre painting, commissioned by a samurai from a Kano school artist. We don't know which one but when you see the screen in the background, that kind of monochrome ink painting is exactly the type that the Kano school had previously created.
And you see the traditional topic of the four gentlemanly pursuits. The four pursuits were, in Japanese qin, qi, shu, hua. Qin means musical instruments, the chin or the koto. Qi refers to board games, especially the game of Go with its very complex anticipatory strategies. And then shu was calligraphy and hua referred to painting. So the four gentlemanly pursuits. And I use the word gentlemanly because it was supposed to be male literati pursuits.
But watch how that very revered theme changed when Japanese painters got hold of it. So instead of the very rarified music of the chin or the koto they started to play the three stringed shamisen instrument that became so closely associated with kabuki and the pleasure quarters. Instead of the complex game of Go, they played sugoroku which was the equivalent of backgammon.
And then instead of copying the great calligraphy models of Chinese masters of the past, love letters took their place. And then here, to represent the fourth gentlemanly pursuit of painting, you have a painting within a painting. But look at the screen and the traditional Kano Chinese style. It's about to be folded away and it's almost symbolic in the way that the traditional forms of ink painting are going to be folded away and make way for the new type of genre painting of the 17th century-- of the early to the late 17th century. It was practiced for about a century before it was supplanted by Ukiyo-e painting.
You can see a foretaste of Ukiyo-e painting in the way in this famous painting that Hikone screen-- named after the samurai family that owned it, in the castle that now owns the painting-- you can see the depictions of young women against a blank background. And keep that in mind when we get to the Ukiyo-e paintings of about 75 years later because this is where it all began.
And you can see the different types of games that will start to appear in Japanese genre painting. It will replace the complex game of Go. Not even shogi, the checkers, but backgammon, sugoroku. And sometimes you have, replacing the four gentlemanly pursuits, the imported game of cards, Western karuta.
The Western missionaries and merchants brought two very important imports to Japan in the 16th century. One was the game of cards used for gambling and the other, of course, was tobacco. And they started smoking pipes in the 16th century. People became addicted. By the early 17th century, Japanese were growing their own tobacco. And no many how many prohibitions the shogunate put on smoking, on tobacco, it continued to flourish in Japan and became very important to the pleasure quarters.
If you see so many paintings, the symbol of the long pipe in the pleasure quarters is a symbol of a relaxed time because the male patrons would go and the courtesans would have to entertain them. But a lot of these gentlemen that showed up at the pleasure quarters were complete bores. They didn't have anything to say. And how do you pass the time? How do you deal with a customer who didn't know how to recite poetry or didn't know how-- anything about music and couldn't talk about the latest kabuki performance?
You would keep on lighting his pipe. It had a small bowl and so it became part of the way of passing time of just tapping out the pipe and relighting it. And so when you see a kiseru, a pipe, in a painting of the pleasure quarters, it's a symbol of the leisurely passage of time. And example. The Hikone screen and the related scene of playing cards, probably from the same workshop of the early 17th century.
Now, what happened is the shogunate got pretty angry at all of these samurai starting to go to kabuki, starting to have parties in their homes. And so they actually banned the young kabuki actors, by this time it was the young male kabuki actors, the wakashuku. These were teenage, performers in their 20's, who were performing on the kabuki stage and the samurai would invite them to come to their house and do performances.
And here we have a retinue of samurai arriving at this daimyo mansion that had been turned into a house of pleasure. And you see the elaborate costumes of the young men. And if you go through this entire screen and see the screen-- now it's here, as you can see, very recently at the Metropolitan Museum-- you can see that the young men are dressed so flamboyantly. It's almost impossible to tell them apart from the young women.
And here you can see the game of cards being performed, writing a letter. And you start to see the signals. And I warned you about the presence of the kiseru, or the pipe, for tobacco. You start to see all the signals of the accouterments of the pleasure quarter starting to appear in this type of screen commissioned by samurai patrons. And here you just have an old monk who's-- he's being taken care of by young men-- these are young men-- and also a young woman and somebody's just cleaning out his ears and the other is serving sake in a big lacquer cup. He's having a good time but he's being tended to by his young wakashu performers and escorts.
And the gardens themselves are quite dramatic in these screens. And then the final scene shows a group of young men mostly dancing with-- in the front with a young woman playing the shamisen. And you have all of these flamboyantly dressed young men dancing to the accompaniment of the woman on the shamisen and we're setting up this kind of exotic world of the pleasure quarters. A young woman sitting on a chair-- people didn't use chairs in Japan-- on a tiger skin. Tigers didn't romp in the forests of Japan. And you see the point I mentioned before, the gorgeous costumes become a characteristic of this type of painting.
And where does it lead? Now take a look. We've made a little leap now. We're in the Kanbun era, we're at the end of the 17th century now. We're in the 1660s, 1670s, and look at the new type of painting style that emerges.
A single courtesan, or in this case a dancer, against a blank background. Remember when I said on the Hikone screen some of the figures were just against a blank gold background. Instead of the genre painting, it's as though we have a new emphasis on the human figure and we don't need the architectural background, we don't need the garden setting, we don't need the urban setting.
What we have is the entire pictorial composition within the outlines of the human figure, and it's almost as though the garden setting, all the flowers, all the plants, have been inverted to be within the outlines of the human body. And this is the very beginning, these anonymous paintings of the end of the 17th century, lay the foundation for the development of the Ukiyo-e.
And this is the person who is considered to be the founder of the Ukiyo-e school of painting, Hishikawa Moronobu. And when we examine his background we realize that few artists would be more qualified to begin this type of painting, because he came from a family of textile designers. And you can see in the gorgeous robes the designs drawn from classical literature. In the classes yesterday and today, we often spoke about the importance of Heian period imagery, imagery from the ancient Japanese past referring to The Tales of Genji or The Tales of Issei. And here we have little paintings on shells that become the motif for these paintings of courtesans.
And when you look at the face of the courtesan, you're seeing the beginning of a style where there is no individual expression. It's a stylized representation of the face of the courtesan. But instead of focusing on the facial features, Ukiyo-e encourages you to look at the beautiful garments, the decoration on the garments, the themes of the motifs, and then also the accouterments that the courtesans are holding. And let's see how they play out.
Now, Hishikawa Moronobu created hand scrolls like this. You see a male patron within the brothel setting. The shamisen now has become a common feature. But look at what else they have done in this depiction of the pleasure quarters. You have calligraphy on a screen, you have ink paintings. So even though this was a place that men visited for corporeal pleasures, still the artists are trying to project-- to project the image of the pleasure quarters as being a site for culture as well.
Moronobu began this, and in paintings such as this, he's creating an idealized view of the pleasure quarters and trying to promote the idea that the courtesans were not just there for sexual pleasure, but also were there as proponents of traditional Japanese poetry, of traditional forms of Japanese music, of song, and then also the literary arts such as calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese poetry, and painting.
Now, something to keep in mind through all of this is, when we look at the paintings of Hishikawa Moronobu, we're looking at the deluxe output. Very expensive works. But at the same time, Moronobu was creating textile pattern books, he was illustrating popular novels, he was also illustrating the classics. And he started to create the idea of Ukiyo-e-- pictures of the floating world, pictures of the demimonde, pictures of the kabuki stage-- as a form of popular art. For the first time we are talking about an art in Japan that appeals to the masses, that appeals to people of the merchant class, to wealthy farmers, to anyone who could afford a woodblock printed book or a single sheet print. It was a revolution in Japanese art history.
He created books on various topics, about various occupations of Japan, and he established the foundation of what came to be known as the Ukiyo-e school. You can see in the works of Kaigetsudo Ando and his students, very similar types of techniques. Kaigetsudo's figures are more statuesque, but you see a similar interest in representing the backgrounds of the figures, not through typical background painting but by these elaborate decorations on the kimono.
And something else is going on here. What is happening there? The students in the audience are off the hook. I'm not going to ask you what I taught you this afternoon or yesterday. But, they will know that this is what's called a shikishi, or a poetry card, decorated paper upon which a poem, a waka, a 31 syllable court poem would be inscribed. A practice over 1,000 years old at this time, why is it on an Ukiyo-e painting?
The particular poem here is from the eighth century. It's by Sarumaru Dayu, an eighth century poet. What is the work of an eighth century classical poet doing on a painting of a courtesan who sold their services to wealthy clients in the pleasure quarter?
She wears an obi in the front. It's knotted in the front, symbolic of being able to untie it for a patron. She is a very high ranking prostitute. What is the classical poem there?
Deep in the mountains traipsing through leaves, a deer cries for its mate. When I hear that sound, it's autumn at its saddest. So you know the feeling when you-- the weather starts to change, you get the cool breeze, the foliage indicates that autumn has arrived. And in Japan that crying of the deer was a sad sound because it's the sound of the male looking for its mate. So to place it on a painting of a courtesan, perhaps it's alluding to this idea of a patron or a courtesan looking for a patron.
So this is how poetry can function on Ukiyo-e paintings. But through the rest of my lecture, I want to talk about this text image interaction in Ukiyo-e paintings and see if we can look at this type of painting in a different way.
For instance, when of Kaigetsudo Ando's students, Doshin, created this picture of a seated courtesan. And what is she doing? Writing a letter. And who is she writing it to? She's writing to her patron.
Now, you have to use your imagination what she's writing. Is she happy? Is she angry at her patron for not showing up, not paying enough money, not ransoming her from the brothel? We know if she was reading a letter from her patron it's almost always with bad news, and there is an entire tradition of paintings of courtesans writing or reading letters from their patrons.
What does her handwriting look like? Well, this is what it looks like. This is a calligraphy model book of the type of writing, the cursive writing style, of courtesans. Now, if you look at it, well, very few people in this room could actually read it. Some of the students are laughing because I tested them yesterday and today to see those who had studied Japanese for a few years if they-- or those who had studied Chinese or could read Chinese as a native language-- if they could make out these characters.
And very few of the students, even though they had advanced language skills, could make out what the characters. It takes a while to learn how to read this form of calligraphy. But it's possible. It follows rules. And it's very elegant, it's very flamboyant. It reflects the personality of the courtesans. So this is what their letters would look like.
And as we go through the decades, we start to see more and more books published on the subject of the pleasure quarters. Nishikawa Sukenobu is of crucial importance because he was the Kyoto artist who established the precedent for beauties in-- that were used of a later age. For those of you who have studied The Tale of Genji, you will recognize the scene of the Third Princess with the cat while courtiers are outside playing aristocratic kickball has been replaced by a periodic painting of a young courtesan with a puppy instead of a cat, and instead of male courtiers outside playing kickball or Kemari, they have a young man just playing with a ball.
This became the type of periodic painting, or mitate-e, that was practiced by Ukiyo-e painters. Here is a scene, very close to the ones we are looking at from the album leaf of the Johnson Museum, that shows a 17th century painting of the courtiers playing kickball and the cat whose leash is getting caught in the reed blinds. And what we have here is the quintessential scene of voyeurism of the Third Princess of The Tale of Genji being exposed to the male courtiers through the interaction of this cat who gets tangled up in the blinds. So anyone in the 18th century looking at this painting by Sukenobu would have immediately recognized that this was a playful visual reference to the great esteemed classic The Tale of Genji.
And you start to see what happens with woodblock prints. For instance, during the age when woodblock prince became nishiki-e, or polychrome prints, through the revolutionary work of Suzuki Harunobu, you start to see these shikishi, these poem cards, with classical poems placed on the woodblock prints, the popular woodblock prints. And then when you see a young man, a young woman playing a game of checkers, it's going back and referring to all those antecedents that I mentioned before.
I just placed this in because we have another example of courtesan reading a letter and then the mythical animal that if you place a picture under your pillow it will keep your nightmares away. Or give you nightmares.
Sunisho and Shigemasu created one of the great, great books that included at the end a collection of women's poetry and a reminder that the courtesans themselves often composed poetry. But look at the imagery that we find. We have courtesans here, all of them named and identified, playing the shamisen or the koto or the flute. And so once again, depictions of courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters being depicted as having cultural attainments.
One of my favorite books of all time is this work by Kitao Masanobu, also known by Santo Kyoden. But when you look at these wonderful depictions of high ranking courtesans of the Yoshiwara, they're accompanied by waka poems, court poems, in their own handwriting. Isn't this remarkable that someone would want to create a guidebook to courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters and promoting them by showing how good they were at calligraphy.
Some of the poems they wrote themselves, other times they copied poems from ancient poetry anthologies of the court. A gorgeous book showing courtesans as being highly literate, skilled at music, skilled at poetry, and most importantly, skilled at calligraphy.
Now, I've avoided the subject of shunga, or erotic imagery, but I want to mention that most of the artists that I've presented already also created erotica. And as you know, there's been a boom in shunga scholarship in recent years. This was a taboo subject for many years, but isn't it remarkable, keeping in mind all the things I've said about the presentation of courtesans as being highly cultured, even erotica draws on the same subject.
For instance, when Kunisada created in the 1830s an erotic album-- you often have the initial pictures, you know just suggestive, they're not erotic. But look at-- what's going on here? You have that shikishi poem card, you have this beautiful depiction of flowers, the gorgeous robes. And even though this is an erotic volume, still they're using all of these techniques of presenting classical Japanese literary culture even when-- within the context of a brothel.
For instance, we mentioned Hishikawa Moronobu using depictions of The Tale of Genji, The Tales of Isssei, in shell paintings. We've mentioned the use of waka, of court poetry, on poem cards. We have all of the accouterments, but it's an erotic scene. And even a little bit-- you can turn your eyes away momentarily-- the same theme, poetry card, shell paintings, beautiful paintings within paintings depicting the most lascivious acts that are-- it's unique perhaps in the world's presentation of erotica for this kind of highly cultured approach.
Now where does that come from? Now, when you look at this glorious painting of a courtesan-- that's going to be on view next year in the Fishbein-Bender exhibition at the Metropolitan-- it looks like a straight forward presentation of a courtesan. Those of you familiar with calligraphic styles know that something else is going on here. It's a court style of calligraphy. It's a [? reisei ?] style of calligraphy.
Well, it gets a little bit more complicated, a little bit more confusing, when you decipher the characters. Let me read them first and see if it makes any sense. Buddha put religious law to good use. All of a sudden you know something is confusing here. That's the character for Buddha. We know this is by Tajuan, a Buddhist-- a zen Buddhist monk. We said, what is there a Zen Buddhist [INAUDIBLE]?
Buddha put religious law to good use. Our founding patriarch, Bodhidharma, put the Buddha to good use. We the priests of the final age of the Buddhist law put our founding patriarch to good use. What they're saying is, we're putting religion to good use.
And then the author of the phrase is addressing the painting of the courtesan and he says, and you put your five foot tall body to good use to allay the passions of mankind. Now isn't this interesting. What this zen monk is suggesting is that the courtesans somehow, by helping with the corporeal needs of the male client being satisfied, that the courtesan is allaying the passions of the world. Of course you're supposed to do this through religious training, you're supposed to do it through the Buddhist practice of the middle way. But he's pointing out that there's actually a connection between the sublimation of passion through a religious mode and then through going to a brothel.
It's controversial, but listen to how he went on to say-- he said, form is none other than emptiness. Emptiness is none other than form. Willows are green, flowers crimson of all various shades. Now those of you who've studied the history of Buddhist sutras will know that's a very famous line from the heart sutra, the most important sutra of Zen Buddhist practice.
What is that doing on an inscription of a Buddhist-- of a painting of a courtesan? And then it ends, and you can tell that we've entered into the realm of a poem because it's indented. And the poem reads, night after night the moon visits the waters of the pond, but its reflection does not remain, just as a lover's feelings do not linger.
So do you see what the analogy is here? The moon and Buddhism as a suit-- as a symbol of enlightenment. And it's just saying, like the reflection of the moon on the water, it doesn't linger. The same way the patron who visits the pleasure quarters, the memory of his visit disappears. So it's a bit satirical, but at the same time, we're seeing that this monk Tajuan, who was a little bit of an eccentric and he caused a lot of problems for the Zen establishment, he was poking fun at the pompous sermons of his fellow monks.
Now, keep in mind that this is all connected to the idea of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. The first patriarch of Zen Buddhism is connected in popular literature with courtesans. Here we have an image of a young woman with Bodhidharma just plucking his beard. Here we have a traditional image of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, who sat in silent meditation facing the walls of a cave for nine years. He sat so still for nine years that his legs fell off.
He lost his legs but sat firmly, and in Japan there's even a form of a roly poly doll-- I don't know if you've seen it, the Dharma dolls. You know when you have to paint in the eyes if the-- both eyeballs are missing you paint one in at the beginning of a project and then you paint in the other when you finish? These roly poly dolls were already popular in the Edo period.
So, as suggested by a painting such as we have here, courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter were linked to the imagery of Bodhidharma, the great saint of Zen Buddhism, because of a slang connection. The courtesans were called Daruma, because they were just like the roly poly dolls when they lay down and then they got back up again patron after patron. I know this is not politically correct to say that but this is the connection that existed.
And for instance, in a painting by Hokuga here-- Hokuun, Hokuun in the middle, what is this juxtaposition of Bodhidharma and the courtesan? What is the connection? Well, I've mentioned already a little bit of this collection-- connection in popular lore. We often see Zen Buddhist inscriptions on zen-- on Ukiyo-e paintings.
It's an interesting-- but what about this inscription on Hokuun's painting. Hokuun was a disciple of the great Katsushika Hokusai. Well, we know this is-- this inscription was written by one of the great scholars, [INAUDIBLE] name [INAUDIBLE], refers to coming of [JAPANESE], a very great scholar of classical Japanese literature. He wrote on The Tale of Genji, he was a great scholar of waka, the 31 syllable poetry form that I've been referring to. He was a great scholar. He was a Kokugaku scholar. This is a scholar of native studies, of Japanese culture and the vernacular.
Well, he wrote a poem about Bodhidharma looking at the courtesan. And this is the poem he wrote. As I meditate on nothing-- so of course we know that Bodhidharma meditated on nothing for nine years-- as I meditate on nothing other than you-- so all of a sudden Bodhidharma isn't looking at the cave, he's meditating on the beautiful courtesan-- I am ashamed that you know my real mind. Those of you who've studied Buddhism know that the idea of the true mind, this is your inner Buddhist enlightened self, so Bodhidharma is worried that this courtesan actually knows what he's really thinking and that Bodhidharma is really thinking of this beautiful young woman.
And she knows what he's thinking, and here's how this very distinguished scholar of poetry finished his poem. As I meditate on nothing other than you, I'm ashamed that you know my real mind. Alas, not only have I lost my prick, but my ass has rotted away as well. Now, do you see how scandalous something-- when you look at this, you didn't realize what kind of quotations would come out of such beautiful calligraphy.
But do you see, this is the realm of the floating world. All of this was allowed. These eminent scholars would go and write poetry in the context of the pleasure quarters. They would demonstrate their erudition, but at the same time, this was a realm where they could let their hair down and show that they could write humorous poetry as well. The type of poetry here is not waka, it's kyoka. Literally, mad poetry. Dan McKee in the back has spent many years of his life translating kyoka poetry, the 31 syllable variety that's related to court poetry.
And we will see example after example of the great Ukiyo-e painters of the 18th and 19th century adding elegant, in this case a waka, having motifs of the great poets of the past. Keep in mind, every time you see the poetry card in the hand of a courtesan, it's to suggest the erudition. And a later owner can add their own poem to give comments on the beauty of the courtesan or to impart an imaginary dialogue.
And in a work such as this, Kubo Shunman, one of the great poets and artists of this floating world culture, takes all of the great poets of the past-- and we have Ono no Komachi, an artist that we've been stud-- a poet that we've been studying with the students for the past two days-- Ariwara no Narihira. And everyone I hope now recognizes the accouterments that courtiers kept, the ritual arrows associated with Ariwara no Narihira.
And then when you have a chance next year you'll come down to the Met, you'll get to see my translations of some of these poems, and you can see paintings such as we have here of Utagawa Toyoharu. He's just showing a standing beauty, a courtesan. But once again, when you look at the presence of the koto along with the elegant calligraphy by Shokusanjin of the age, the poet has just written the poem amid the sounds of a koto like pine needles rustling on a peak. A courtesan of Matsubaya brothel wonders who the god of courtesans will bring as her first client.
And so, those of you who study the poem a little bit more will realize that Shokusanjin is parodying a famous court poem of 1,000 years before. And he would have expected the viewer of this painting to be able, not only to decipher the calligraphy, but understand the allusions to the classical past. Well, with a little bit of assistance we can read these poems, but I hope when you look at Ukiyo-e paintings, whether here at the Johnson Museum or when you come to the Metropolitan Museum next spring, I hope you'll look at these paintings and think of the origins of all of this symbolic imagery, whether of the koto as one of the four gentlemanly pursuits that's been transformed during the Edo period to be one of the accouterments of women of the pleasure quarters.
And I hope when you look at paintings like this you'll be reminded of how important the depiction in glorious detail of the garments, of how important that was to the clients who bought these deluxe paintings. And I hope when you enjoy Japanese prints and illustrated books you'll also be induced to spend some time looking at these wonderful paintings of the floating world. Thank you very much.
We have a little bit of time for questions if any of the students want to get revenge on me for the questions I asked them yesterday and today. Or anything that you want to ask about, please-- please feel free. Please. Yes?
AUDIENCE: How can you tell the difference in Japanese art between a courtesan and just an aristocrat?
JOHN CARPENTER: OK. That's an excellent question about, how do you tell the difference between a courtesan and an aristocrat? Now, on one level, it's very easy in most paintings if it's a courtesan because she will have super elaborate array of hair pins and she'll have her obi tied in front. And you'll know from, perhaps, her assistants or the setting that this is a courtesan.
But the question is complex because wealthy samurai women would also sometimes wear fabulously gorgeous kimono and so you do have to be careful. But when you study hairstyles and also headwear, you can start to tell the difference. And then, for ladies of the court, there are special hairstyles and special garments that only women of the palace could wear. And so once you start to look at a number of paintings, you can tell the difference.
The trickiest one is to tell whether some of the Ukiyo-e painters were depicting wealthy merchant women or whether they were depicting female performers of the pleasure. So there is a difficulty but it can be done with practice.
And then the other common question is, how can you tell the young men from the young women in the early genre of paintings? And once again, it takes practice, but a certain hairstyle and then of course the shaven pate in the middle. So the young man can be wearing an outfit just as flamboyant and just as gorgeous as a young woman, but if there's a shaven pate and then the hair is tied up in the back and sticks up a little bit more erect, that's a young man. A little bit of practice. There are certain hairstyles that young men never wore.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned that the one artisan in particular was also a designer of clothing. Are there any examples where something depicted that we actually have or know that the actual kimono was made?
JOHN CARPENTER: The question asks, do we have examples of the patterns from these Ukiyo-e designers that were actually made into garments, and do we have those-- do those still survive? As a rule, we have very few garments surviving from the 17th or 18th century in general. If you take the number that must have been created, most of them have been destroyed by fires or-- we just have very few. It's very expensive to find an original 17th century garment.
What we do have are garments that are very similar to the ones in the genre paintings or in the earliest pattern books from the 17th century. So we can often date early kimono, or kosode as they were called, based on these surviving pattern books. As you get into the 19th century, you actually can find pattern books matching up with surviving garments.
So once you get closer. And then once you're into the early 20th century, sometimes we actually have the manufacturer's manuals and the actual garments both surviving. So it's just because of the passage of time that we lose the pattern books and we lose the garments themselves.
AUDIENCE: I had a-- thank you for a wonderful lecture. Really enjoyable. I had a question about patrons. Given that they're no dealers representing living artists, the patrons kind of developed some kind of relationship with the artist or the poets. Some connection. And I wondered, to what extent do you think the patrons were involved in creating the subject matter of a work or the connection of the poem and the image? To what extent did they demand [INAUDIBLE] an image of the courtesan like this versus seeing something and saying, ah, OK, I'll buy that?
JOHN CARPENTER: Dan's question asks, what is the role of the patron in the creating of certain imagery? And if we're later in time we know more about the patrons involved. And of course Dan and I have worked on Surimono and also these privately published prints, and we actually know quite a bit about the poetry club and the poets who commissioned the deluxe woodblock prints. Some of these same patrons commissioned famous Ukiyo-e painters to do their work.
So, actually, in early 19th century we know quite a bit about people who commissioned paintings and we know we have some records [? of that. ?] When we get back a little to the time of, let's say, the Kaigetsugo, those paintings were actually seemed to be aimed at patrons of the Yoshiwara. And so people who went to the Yoshiwara wanted a souvenir and so they wanted that type of painting. But did they actually go in and specifically request it to be on one particular courtesan? That rarely happened.
But what happens sometimes is a patron would ask a courtesan to inscribe a painting his own. In that way, you can almost individualize a painting and say this is a painting of a particular courtesan because it has her poem. But actually, there's nothing in the facial features that would indicate that.
We do have references here and there in popular literature of the time that do mention-- there's an episode in that which talks about a patron specifically asking for a painting of an ideal beauty. But when you read the description you realize that it applies to almost all of the paintings of beautiful woman of Saikaku's time. Were there any more questions or-- we've almost hit our time limit here. If not, thank you very much and hope to see you again.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
John Carpenter, the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discussed "Ways of Reading Ukiyo-e Paintings and Prints" Sept. 28, 2017 at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. The annual Stoikov Lecture in Asian Art is funded by a generous gift from Judith Stoikov ’63.