Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
H. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm); W. 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Not on view
In 1765 Harunobu introduced nishiki-e, the polychrome woodblock print, adding further luxury and realism to ukiyo-e art. Although the use of reflection appeared in the earliest woodblock prints, the advent of color and use of embossing and mica enhanced the illusion represented by the mirror.
In this print two courtesans gaze at each other through a mirror, using reflection as a means of communication. The artist enables the viewer to see both the back of the woman's head and her face at the same time. The portrayal reflects the tradition of women cutting the hair from the nape of the neck. A beautiful nape was essential to female beauty and was also considered an area of erotic charm.
With the addition of the poem to his print, Harunobu heightens the power and narrative of his image. The poem, by Mitsunari, a Heian-period poet, reads:
Even if the mirror feels sad, it is still clear as before. Rather it increases in its clarity, And it never forgets the image it once reflected.
Through personification, the poet gives the mirror the human abilities to love and to remember.