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Young man, as the bodhisattva Monju, sitting astride his vehicle, a lion

Identifier: 1768-70 Harunobu pins 225

"This may form a pair with a design showing a courtesan seated on an elephant in a parody of the Bodhisattva Fugen (Sanskrit: Samantabhadra). The young man is almost certainly a prostitute from a 'tea house in the shadows' ('kagema-jaya') in the Kabuki theatre district. An elegant pipe and smoking set have been substituted for the sword od [sic] enlightenment normally carried by the Bodhisattva Monju (Sanskrit: Manjusri). The idea that a female prostitute may be a manifestation of a Buddhist deity has an ancient pedigree in scripture and literature, but the pairing with a male prostitute is novel. Although Koryƫsai was the most prolific artist of pillar prints, his teacher Harunobu also designed large numbers - over 120 examples are presently known."

Quoted from the curatorial files of the British Museum.


There is another interesting print on this same theme, with the same motifs by Harunobu in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. That one, however, is only 11 3/16 x 7 7/8 in, unlike this example which is about 25 x 4.9 inches. Yet both of these examples show the same young man, sitting on docile lions, and holding a basket like tray used to carry smoking utensils. He also hold a long tobacco pipe, the kind used by women at that time.

Is it possible that both this print and the one in Boston was underwritten by a well known tobacconist? Such things happened for advertising purposes, even when this is not spelled out directly with labels or text. Or, could it have been a design that struck Harunobu's fancy?

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