Illustrated manuscript on paper entitled “Uta hanshi Kanroji Motonaga kyo hitsu. Shokunin zukushi utaawase. Su nijuyon ban. Kenpo” [“Competition Judged by Kanroji Motonaga. Artisan Poetry Competition. 24 Competitions. Kenpo Period”].

49 fine double-page illustrations, of which 25 are in rich color. 34; [2], 24 folding leaves. Large 8vo (270 x 190 mm.) in orihon (accordion) format, orig. decorated boards. [Japan]: ca. 1800.

Picture scrolls featuring artisan poetry competitions, called shokunin utaawase-e, are part of the picture scroll (utaawase-e) tradition. The competing poets are depicted with the clothing and tools of various occupations and, in the 13th-15th centuries, any member of the urban population could be included. It is an imaginary competition conceived by a single author, and the attribution to persons of various occupations is merely a device to allow artists to explore genre themes.

This manuscript, created to resemble a scroll but in accordion format, is particularly interesting because it comprises two versions of the same competition, using the same poems. The first series of pictures is illustrated in black sumi ink, and the second series is finely colored. The depictions of the same professions in the two series have very different images. The imaginary competition took place on a particular autumn evening in the year 1214 at Tohokuin in Kyoto. The participants included artisans and commoners, instead of aristocrats, and both men and women.

The set of 24 black sumi ink illustrations occupies the first section of the manuscript. Each illustration, labelled with the name of the “team” and the occupation, is accompanied by its poem. Following each pair of illustrated poems is the commentary by the imaginary judge. The competitions in this first part include matches between a doctor and a fortune teller, a sculptor of Buddhist statues and a bookbinder/framer, a blacksmith and a carpenter, a sword sharpener and a metal caster, a female employee of a shrine and a blind musician, a dish salesman and a plasterer, a female dyer and a mat weaver, a lacquerware creator and a maker of laminated wood boxes, a gambler and a boat rower, a sewing-needle maker and a wood turner, a female entertainer from Katsura area of Kyoto and two female firewood carriers from Ohara in Kyoto, and, finally, a travelling salesman and a diver for seafood.

Dividing the first part from the second is one double-page color drawing of a Shoki, a figure from Chinese mythology who is a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings.

The second section consists of 24 finely painted color images depicting the same occupations, along with poems and the names of the professions. Only the tenth match depicts different occupations: a leather worker (?, with no poem) and a rosary maker. The quality of the paintings is very fine.

Motonaga Kanroji (1457-1527), a gifted poet, was a prominent member of the court aristocracy and a leading figure in the literary elite in early 16th-century Kyoto.

In fine condition.

Price: $6,500.00

Item ID: 6938