Apparition of the Courtesan

Artist: Ran'u (life dates unknown)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, 1765
Ink and color on paper
H x W (overall): 28 x 19.4 cm (11 x 7 5/8 in)
Credit Line
The Anne van Biema Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Woodblock print

Anne van Biema collection, chuban, courtesan, Edo period (1615 - 1868), ghost, Japan, ukiyo-e
Provenance research underway.

The apparition of a beautiful young Japanese woman appears in the smoke from a Chinese-style incense brazier, an image that recalls the Chinese legend of an emperor who saw his deceased beloved in the smoke of a magical incense. Stories of deceased or wronged lovers appearing in smoke were a popular theme in kabuki, although this is not a theatrical scene. On another level, this print functions as a calendar for the second year of the Meiwa era (1765). The date is inscribed in Chinese characters beneath the rim of the incense brazier. The open wrapper reveals several packets of incense inscribed with poetic names that identify the short months of the lunar year 1765: specifically, the first, fourth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and twelfth months. This print, produced at the beginning of full-color printing, is a rare and exemplary work by Ran'u, a contemporary of Harunobu. It was once in the renowned Japanese print collection of the French jeweler, Henri Vever, whose seal appears in the corner.

Published References
  • Ann Yonemura, et al. Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne van Biema Collection. Seattle and Washington. cat. 109, pp. 272-273.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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