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Young samurai on horseback

Identifier: 1750s Masanobu horse dandy
Description:

Illustrated in The Dawn of the Floating World 1650-1765: Early Ukiyo-e Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, no. 70, p. 185.

Louise E. Virgin wrote of this piece:

"Expressing the enchantment of the moment, the poem plays with the expression koi-kaze, which means 'winds of love' but can also be used as a metaphor of 'falling in love':

Koi-kaze ni
chiru ya sakura no
monomi mado

Stirred by the winds of love,
cherry blossoms scatter
by the viewing window.

Masanobu and other ukiyo-e artists occasionally depicted warriors on horseback in prints and painting; the horse and rider in this print are especially elegant. In addition to wearing the familiar braided cords and big tassels, the mane of the dappled horse is decoratively cut and tied. The young man of fashion (wakashu) wears three tastefully coordinated layers: an inner robe of beni-coloured silk, a middle robe with a linear, decorative pattern of flying cranes and a dark outer robe with a fashionable tartan pattern. The young man's formal divided skirt (hakama) also displays a refined array of patterns, ranging from geometric designs to floral vines - a blending of patterns found in prints by Masanobu from the mid to late 1740s.

There is a romantic, almost androgynous beauty about the young warrior wakashu, exemplified in the contrast between the hilt of the long samurai sword, a masculine symbol, and the flowing sleeves, traditionally worn only by courtesans, unwed young women or by wakashu-gata. This is not a theatre scene - no actor crests are included - but the elegant appearance of the samurai brings to mind the trendsetting kabuki actors Onoe Kikugorō (1717-83) and Sanogawa Ichimatsu (1722-62) in the roles of handsome youths. Ichimatsu was the son of a samurai and the adopted son of a theatre assistant (dekata). He was famous for wearing the plain, checkered pattern popularly called ichimatsu moyō. However, several designs by Masanobu, Toyonobu and Shigenaga issued in the 1740s show him in haori with tartan variations such as that seen in this print. It is most likely that the image was intended to appeal to fans of both actors."

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The curatorial files at the Honolulu Museum of Art read:

A stylish young samurai is seated upon an elaborately bedecked mount. Above his head bloom cherry blossoms, and through a window two girls peek at him admiringly. The poem reads: “To the breeze of love the cherry blossoms fall, beside the viewing-window.” He is immaculately dressed and even his horse is trimmed up for the occasion. It is thought that the model for the splendid young man was Sanogawa Ichimatsu, a popular Kabuki actor who often served as a subject of Masanobu’s prints. (from "VOGUE in Japan: Edo Fashion through Japanese prints" exhibition 07/30/08-)"

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The shōhitsu 正筆 at the end of the signature basically means that this is an authentic/autograph work of art.

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This print is categorized as a beni-e with hand-coloring with lacquer, i.e., urushi.

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There is a reference to a copy of this print in the Vever sale on March 24, 1977 at Sotheby's. It is listed as #14, p. 15 of volume III. There is no illustration. Bibliographic references include Estampes Japonaises Primitives... Exposées au Musées des Arts Decoratifs en Fevrier, 1909 by Vignier and Inada and from Japanese From the Early Masters to the Modern by James Michener, pl. 33.

There is also a small black and white reproduction in the Illustrated Catalogues of Tokyo National Museum: Ukiyo-e Prints (1), #265.

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