Onna San no Miya (the Third Princess)

Suzuki Harunobu Japanese

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For Harunobu's sophisticated patrons, this deceptively calm scene of a palace beauty on a spring day invoked one of classic literature's most stirring tragedies. The young woman in aristocratic garb with her lively cat appears frequently in ukiyo-e and recalls a pivotal incident in the early-eleventh-century romance of Genji, the "shining prince" who personified the Heian court's ideal of aesthetic sensitivity and discernment in the conduct of personal and public life. The doll-like figure with long flowing hair and trailing robe recalls the naive young imperial princess San no Miya, recently wed to the aging Genji. On a spring day, her cat ran outside, swinging open the bamboo blind and revealing the young nobles playing ball in the garden. A branch of cherry in full bloom suggests the setting and signals the flowering of love as well as its inevitably short duration. San no Miya caught sight of the handsome Kashiwagi, son of Genji's boyhood friend. In the alchemy of youth and forbidden love that transpires, the novel weaves the themes of passion and fateful retribution for social transgression, recasting Genji's own youth in intense and tragic tones that are believed by the sweet innocence in Harunobu's vision.

Onna San no Miya (the Third Princess), Suzuki Harunobu (Japanese, 1725–1770), Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, Japan

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