Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode), Momoyama period (1573–1615), late 16th century
Pair of six–panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper; 57 1/16 x 136 9/16 in. (144.9 x 346.8 cm); folded: 65 x 26 1/2 x 5 in. (165.1 x 67.3 x 12.7 cm)
H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
In these screens, sumptuous kimonos draped casually on maki-e (decoration of gold and/or silver sprinkled powder) lacquer racks intimately evoke their unknown wearer and prompt the question, "Whose sleeves?" (Tagasode). The famous phrase turns on the notion that a person contained in his or her possessions can be a more powerful expression of personality and physical presence than a conventional likeness, and is taken from a classical poem in the Spring section of the tenth-century poetry anthology Collected Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times (Kokin wakashû).
The fragrance seems even more alluring than the hue,
Whose sleeves have brushed past?
Or would it be this plum tree blossoming here at home?
Iro yori mo
ka koso awaredo
ado no ume zo mo
In the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo periods (1615–1868), screens such as these presented a popular allusion in a contemporary mode to this romantic tradition. Lively patterns of fans, waterwheels, and stylized characters are combined to create rich, decorative effects on the kosode kimono. In addition to the visual beauty implied in these detailed patterns, the different textures of the cotton and silk cloth invoke the sensation of touch. Even the absent wearer's fragrance is suggested by way of the foldable lacquer stand for scenting the kimono. Generally unsigned, tagasode screens are thought to have been painted largely by "town painters," artists whose ready-made works were sold in shops in Kyoto.