One leaf of text, six leaves with 12 single-page woodcuts, .5 leaf of ads at end. 8vo, orig. semi-stiff blue wrappers, orig. block-printed title label on upper cover (label rather frayed), new stitching. Edo: Maekawa Rokuzaemon, 1786.
First edition of this well-known book, with 12 full-page illustrations, delicately printed in color, depicting women engaged in the different stages of silk production. This work is the result of a famous collaboration — they had several — between Katsukawa (1726-93), described by Hillier (The Art of the Japanese Book, p. 330) as “one of the unquestionably great masters of Ukiyo-e, outstanding as painter and print-designer,” and Kitao (1739-1820), who “was unusual among ukiyo-e artists because he was self-taught. His family ran a bookshop, and the young Shigemasa probably learnt his skills from studying illustrations in books sold in the family shop. His first works gained recognition during the late 1750s…his principal output is in book illustration, which he practised throughout his career and which became the speciality of the Kitao school, of which he was the founder…His students included Kitao Masanobu, Keisai Masayoshi (1764–1824) and Kubo Shunman.”–Oxford Art online.
This work is one of the best early Japanese books on silk making and vividly depicts the enormous labor women exerted to collect the eggs, process the cocoons, and weave the silk strands into the final product. The 12 images, each signed by its artist, are evenly divided between Katsukawa and Kitao.
The scenes show women selecting eggs for reproduction, preparing mulberry leaves for the worms, feeding the leaves to the silk worms, shelves for the worms to grow in a warm environment, the cocoons, removing the cocoons from the twigs that supported them while growing, boiling of the cocoons, reeling the fibers into continuous and uniform strands, hanging the treated fibers to dry, the spinning of the silk yarn, and the actual weaving of the kimono fabric.
The final scene depicts a store that sells finished fabrics for kimono. We see a merchant showing bolts of fabrics to two young women clients. A catalogue of samples is present.
The layout of this work is interesting. The text of the Preface leaf is shown as an unfolded letter, and each illustration has a caption at top within a floating cloud border (speech bubbles).
Very good copy, rather faintly colored when compared to the Smithsonian and MMA copies. Preserved in a chitsu. The images have some minor worming, carefully repaired.
Item ID: 9710