Artist: Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉)

Print: Kakemono of a courtesan reading poem scroll

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Dates: 1830s,created
Dimensions: Overall dimensions

Signed: Keisai Eisen ga
Censor's seal: kiwame

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Physical description:

A full length portrait of a high ranking courtesan reading a scroll of poems decorated with actors' mon, her obi decorated with butterflies, her kimonos with bats and even more butterflies. She has applied sasabeni gloss to her lower lip. This gives it a green tone. This cosmetic in its purest form was more expensive than gold.

From Jerry Vegder's Prints of Japan - Eisen - THE BAT MOTIF: Chinese is a tonal language with a many characters having the same sounds, but written with different brush strokes. As a result there are far more homophones in Chinese than there are in English or any other Western language. This allows for greater punning and what appears to us as an obtuse visual reference is easily recognizable and commonplace to the Chinese viewer. One such prominent example is the use of the characters for the sound fú which is spoken with a rising tone. Fú, meaning the word bat, is written as 蝠 while the word fú meaning happiness is written as 福. As a result the bat was portrayed in China as a substitute for the concept of happiness. The Japanese borrowed both characters for their kanji dictionaries and applied them to their own words for happiness and bat. The educated elite and eventually the general population would have known that the image of a bat on such items as clothing was a propitious symbol: may the wearer be happy. Red bats were the most efficacious --- even more than blue bats. That is the message displayed in the kimono of the beauty shown above.