CM: The album Nishikizuri Onna Sanjûrokkasen known in the West by the shortened title Thirty-Six Immortal Poetesses is one of the most fascinating Japanese publications of the early 19th century lavishly printed in colour by woodblock. It was published in Tokyo in 1801 as a deluxe edition by the Edo publisher Eijudo Nishimuraya Yohachi at the request of Hanagata Yoshiakira, a calligraphy master. The purpose of the album was to promote the master's school. The ancient poems were, in fact, transcribed by his young female pupils whose name, address and age are recorded in the right-hand margin of each plate.
The album includes thirty-six plates by the well-known painter Chôbunsai Eishi (1756-1829), one frontispiece plate designed by Japan's celebrated painter Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), one preface, two pages of after-words and a colophon. This album explores the lives and works of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poetesses, a group of women poets and novelists who flourished in the imperial court of Japan from the 9th through the 14th centuries, their poems being an important element of classical culture active during the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1185-1333) periods. Each plate depicts, on the left, one of the Thirty-Six Poetesses and, on the right, one of their poems. The essence of their poetry related to court life and its refinement was imitated, in various artistic forms, in later centuries.
Chôbunsai Eishi, the author of Thirty-Six Immortal Poetesses, was originally from a family of samurai. A famous painter and printmaker in the 'Ukiyo-e' style (pictures of the floating world), he is celebrated for his tall and delicate female figures. His noble origin and early experience in the Kano school of painting were probably of some help in working on the classical theme of the album. The plates represent these poetesses trailing their brocade kimonos in a variety of styles, evocative of their poems. Eishi's art demonstrates two main qualities, common to the best Japanese prints: a refined palette of colors and the ornate design of the figures. The calligraphy, which used to adorn the right part of each plate, is decorated with a pattern of colored clouds. A fine composition of line and color, the album presents a perfect accompaniment of each Immortal Poetess with her poem.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2008]
NORTON BROW, LOUISE Block Printing and Book Illustration in Japan 1924 George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, p.172
HILLIER, JACK The Art of the Japanese Book 1987 Sotheby’s, London, p.454
PEKARIK, ANDRFEW J. The Thirty-Six Immortal Women Poets: Illustrated by Chobunsai Eishi 1991 Barrie & Jenkins, London
HILLIER, JACK Japanese Colour Prints 1993 Phaidon
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Silent Dialogues: Multimedia Portraits Throughout Time 2008 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens