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Loan Object
Artist: Utagawa Kuninao, Japanese, 1793–1854

Abalone Diver, from the series Matching Beauties (Bijin awase)

early to mid-1820s

Surimono, shikishi-ban; polychrome woodblock print with silver pigment and gauffrage

sheet: 20.5 × 18.2 cm (8 1/16 × 7 3/16 in.)
Promised gift of Virginia Shawan Drosten and Patrick Kenadjian, B.A. 1970
ILE2017.30.265

歌川国直 「美人合 」 海女 江戸時代

Abalone divers, called ama, were highly eroticized in ukiyo-e prints. Their bodies, naked except for a waist sash, and their skill in excavating abalone shells deep from the sea were considered marvelous. As this print’s first poem, by Chinchōya Chinchō, tells us, the Ama emerging from the rough water with an abalone in her hand is like a jewel of early spring. The Ama here is drawn with wavy lines reminiscent of bodily creases and organs; she is a goddess of untamed desire filled with the primordial strength of nature. It is useful to consider this surimono in the context of the place of women in Japanese society during the Edo period. The household (ie) was the primary unit of society, and while women could not head the household, neither were they slaves nor placed on pedestals. They were indispensable in the workforce and were often the keepers of finances at home.

Geography: 
Japan
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Japanese
Period: 
Edo period (1615–1868)
Classification: 
Works on Paper - Prints
Provenance: 

Collection of Virginia Shawan Drosten and Patrick Kenadjian. Purchased from Joan B. Mirviss Ltd. October 3, 2016.

Bibliography: 

Sadako Ohki and Adam Haliburton, The Private World of Surimono: Japanese Prints from the Virginia Shawan Drosten and Patrick Kenadjian Collection (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2020), 147–49, no. 39, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.