Art/ Collection/ Art Object

回文歌 京 大阪 江戸
Palindromic Poems (Kaibunka): Kyo

Artist:
Suzuki Harunobu (Japanese, 1725–1770)
Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
ca. 1768
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Right-hand sheet of a triptych of polychrome woodblock prints; ink and color on paper
Dimensions:
12 3/8 x 5 3/8 in. (31.4 x 13.7 cm)
Classification:
Prints
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1929
Accession Number:
JP1504
Not on view
In the right-hand section of this triptych the actor Nakamura Tomijūrō stands in front of a koto. A cherry tree blossoms outside. The palindrome above reads:

Kishihi koso
matsu ka mikiwa ni
koto no ne no
toko ni wa kimi ka
tsuma zo kohishiki

As in times past,
waiting, the pine on the shore,
true as the sound of a koto's strings
you
are as dear to me as a wife.

This triptych of three famous onnagata Kabuki actors, each posed representing one of the major cities in Japan, cities that were centers of merchant culture, is a tour de force of work and image play. The poems at the top of each sheet are palidromes, poems that read the same forward and backward. The actors are paired with a domestic object that puns or alludes to the more idealized imagery of the poem: the smoke from an incense burner with that of a spring mist; the treasure boat in a New Year's print with distant boats on the waves; and the koto with a reference to the pure sound of the instrument.
Signature: Suzuki Harunobu ga
Frederick E. Church , New York (until 1929; sold to MMA).
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