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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Courtesan and Tiger General Ma Chao
Date: commissioned for New Year 1806
Medium: Color woodblock print
Dimensions: 8 1/8 x 5 1/2 inches (20.6 x 13.9 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Joanna Haab Schoff, Class of 1955
Object Number: 2011.017.010
Label Text: Itadakishi In the color
Kabuto no iro ni Of the gift helmet
Niibuki no The golden flowers
Kogane hana saku Of mountain roses bloom
Tamagawa no kishi Banks of the Jewel River
—Kashintei Kaneoki

Azusayumi Pulling the Catalpa bow
Haru no yakono For the spring night lecture
Hiku koto wo Our master draws from a classic and
Hanaseba chodo Releases points like arrows
Kaoru umekaze And as they hit the target, a fragrant plum breeze
—Juniken Uranari

Saku ume ka Was it the blooming plums?
Kahoku no hana ka The flowers north of the Yellow
Koremo mata Alerted once again by the song
Kin-i koshi no Of the brocade prince’s
Kocho no koe Nightingale

Like the image, which aligns the figures in a moment of superficial transposition, the poetry creates a series of circumstantial connections between the world of the contemporary courtesan and that of the Chinese military classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, represented by Ma Chao, one of the five “tiger generals” who appear in this work. The links are made through what at first appear to be external themes, the color yellow, and rivers corresponding to this motif and to the figures. Yellow is the color of a tiger, the zodiac sign of the year, and the emblematic animal of the warrior, but also the name of the major Chinese river dividing territories. The female figure is connected to yellow through the suggestion that her name is Tamagawa (“Jewel River,” a leading courtesan name), one of the seven famous Tamagawa rivers in Japan being celebrated for its yellow flowers (yamabuki) as described in the first verse, and also through the nightingale (literally “yellow bird”) in the last verse, which connects with both Chinese images and symbols of the pleasure quarters.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.