Kunisada's Twelve Months
Illustrations of the twelve months were introduced into the repertory of print subjects in the eighteenth century by Okumura Masanobu (1686-1764), a highly innovative Japanese printmaker. From the beginning, these works emphasized scenery and therefore contrasted with the boldly isolated portraits of actors and courtesans so typical of the medium. By the mid-nineteenth century, Kunisada's renditions of the subject had expanded to occupy three sheets of paper in triptych format.
This set of The Twelve Months by Kunisada is striking in the monumentality of its compositions and the intricate detail of its surfaces. Each month illustrates a seasonal activity or holiday observance, performed in most cases by women. In the emphasis on domestic occupations and the conscious projection of narrowly defined female roles, these prints indicate how women were perceived within mid-nineteenth-century Japanese society.
The Asian Art Department gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Zoey Smith, an undergraduate at Rhode Island School of Design, whose research has been incorporated into some of the labels in this exhibition.