Color woodblock print: ōban tate-e, 15¼ x 10⅜ in. (38.4 x 26.4 cm); circa 1822
Series: The Thirty-two Contemporary Types (Tōsei sanjūnisō)
Signed: Gototei Kunisada ga
Artist’s seal: toshidama in matsukawa-bishi
Censor’s seal: kiwame (approved)
Publisher: Nishinomiya Shinroku (Gangetsudō)
The daughter of a wealthy merchant sits, focussed on constructing a duster from strips of scrap paper and a bamboo rod, using her teeth to tauten the string she bites on to knot the paper in place. She is dressed in a stylish tea-green kimono with her family’s crest on its shoulders and sleeves. Her outfit is accented by expensive tie-dyed fabrics in red and purple that she uses for her obi and undergarments, as well as her hairbands. Her elaborate hairdo is further embellished with silver foil ornaments decorated with flowers and miniature bells, paper ties, and tortoiseshell combs. Obviously dressed to go out to enjoy herself with friends, she seems slightly irritated to find herself indoors, doing household chores.
The “thirty-two types” of the series title is a reference to the thirty-two marks of the Buddha, a theme introduced to ukiyo-e in the early eighteenth century by the Kyoto artist Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671–1751). The term refers to the thirty-two ways in which the body of Buddha, an enlightened being, is believed to have differed from mere mortals, or unenlightened ones. In Edo, the term came to be used by physiognomists, who predicted fortunes and analysed character based on facial features. To facilitate their purpose, they employed imported Dutch magnifying glasses, such as the motif used here as the title cartouche, a device that Kunisada borrowed from the 1802/03 set of prints Five Physiognomies of Beauties (Bijin gomensō), by Kitagawa Utamaro (1754–1806). The use of the glass was intended to convey his ability to characterize subjects through their physical appearance, their gestures, and their disposition.