Daily Art Moment: Kitao Shigemasa

The First Month: New Year Visits, The Seven Herbs Ceremony, 9 12/16 x 7 ½ inches, color woodblock on paper. A vertical rectangular print divided into two scenes diagonally by a zigzagged line. The top half is further divided into a left half and a right half. The left shows a female figure dressed in a mauve and red kimono with her black hair pulled back in an elaborate hairstyle. She stands on a veranda looking through a doorway to an interior. Behind her are white gift boxes stacked on green tatami flooring. At right, a young man in a mauve and green patterned kimono writes on a sheaf of paper that is tied to a small pine tree. Behind him, another man, carries gifts while looking off to the right. This man is bald on top and wears a green kimono with a sword tucked under his arm. At top right, a rectangle contains Japanese writing. The lower half of the print is separated from the top by a zigzagged diagonal line that starts above center left and continues to below center right. The scene below shows a man at left seated in front of a low table while chopping vegetables. He is bald and wears a mauve patterned kimono and holds a chopping tool in his hand while gesturing to a guest that has arrived. Next to him are a pile of vegetables on one side and on the other, a candle in a tall stand. The guest, at right, is an older woman wearing a green kimono and holds a daikon radish. She is approaching a set of steps that leads to the area with green tatami flooring the man sits upon. Behind the man are two female figures, one kneeling and gesturing towards the visitor, the other standing. They both wear kimono and are positioned near an open doorway. Beyond the doorway a blossoming tree can be seen against a black night sky.

This print is one of 12 split-screen compositions that represent each month of the year. Much like writing resolutions or eating black-eyed peas, The First Month shows activities associated with New Year celebrations. At the top, a handsome young man writes New Year greetings on a sheaf of paper tied to the decorative pine. A young woman watches him from a veranda, gift boxes already stacked inside on the tatami flooring. Below, at much smaller scale, an older woman brings daikon radish to a man who appears to be chopping vegetables for nanakusa, the seven-herbs porridge, a ceremonial dish eaten for good luck in the New Year. All of these motifs would have been immediately recognizable to contemporary viewers. What’s unusual here is the combination of “day and night” scenes in a dynamic split-screen format, cut by a diagonal zigzag line.

Jeannie Kenmotsu, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art

Kitao Shigemasa (Japanese, 1739–1820). The First Month: New Year Visits, The Seven Herbs Ceremony (Mutsuki, Nenrei, Nanakusa), ca. 1772/1775, color woodblock print on paper, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Asian Art Council, public domain, 2020.13.1

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