Chinese Gentleman and Stableboy Exchanging a Light with their Pipes


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Suzuki Harunobu (circa 1725–70) was a central figure in developing the technique of nishiki-e (full-color prints) around 1765, which revolutionized the art of ukiyo-e. This print, however, was produced before the nishiki-e technique was established. It is a hosoban (narrow format) benizuri-e (two-color prints), an early form of color printing that often limited its palette to pink and green. The accompanying verse describes being stirred awake from the enchantment of cherry blossoms by the pipe light’s fire. In addition to exchanging a light, the stable boy and the foreign gentleman may have been sharing admiration of the beauty of the flowers.

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1 print : woodcut, color ; 28.9 x 14 centimeters


  • Forms part of: R. Leicester Harmsworth collection.

Last updated: May 23, 2012