17th Century Japanese Shunga Hand-Scroll, Kano School.




Anonymous, Kano school

17th century

Hand-scroll of 12 images

Ink, pigment and gofun on paper


H. 33 cm x W. 541 cm (13” x 213”)

Price: USD 14,500

This is a notable early Kano school hand-scroll of lavishly hand-painted Shunga. In each scene, the individual couples are isolated against the undecorated paper, their horizontal positions and the rhythm of the colors lead the viewer through the hand-scroll. Viewing the images online can hardly convey the cumulative effect of the actual scroll, unrolled and viewed scene by scene. The hand-scroll provides a veritable explosion of color, which seems to energize the lovemaking. The lustrous black of the hair heightens the vibrancy of the painting, and the use of a flat white pigment for the bodies of the women and of a flesh tone for those of the men adds an element of contrast. Nudity is not featured for its own sake, and more attention is paid to the artistic possibilities of juxtaposing limbs with the gorgeousness of costumes, as well as, of course, to illustrate the lovers’ mutual pleasure. The artist here was a master of bold, monumental figures and they are filled with a wonderful sense of physical presence. In this work the majority of the males are wearing various types of eboshi hats signifying their high-ranking status. The luxurious kimono of the women similarly denotes their high status. This would have been entirely appropriate for the class and wealth of the patron it was painted for.

Shunga hand-scrolls of the 17th century are not usually signed. As a result, attributions have to depend almost entirely on stylistic judgements. The most successful and prestigious painting group of the time was the Kano school. Kano schools engaged in production for feudal lords who included Shunga in their daughters marriage trousseau wishing for the posterity of descendants and perpetual fortune in battles. One feature of early Shunga hand-scrolls is that particular erotic scenarios are repeated with only minor variation, irrespective of the school affiliation of the artist, be it Kano, Tosa or Hasegawa. Painters seemed to draw from a common pool of compositions, almost certainly copying from earlier, now lost versions. Another feature of early Shunga hand-scrolls is that they don’t necessarily employ the device of non-erotic frontispieces to open the scroll or provide variety between erotic scenes. In this sense, the early scrolls are most forthright in their aim.