Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo by Gion Nankai

Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo by Gion Nankai
New Wedding Favors
Image by peterjr1961
Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo by Gion Nankai
Japan, Edo period, first half of the 18th century

This rare uchikake is the work of Gion Nankai, a well-known poet and artist of the early Nanga movement. Bamboo, vividly painted here in light and dark ink and enhanced with a mist of gold powder, was a favored theme of Nanga artists, who were largely based in the Kyoto area and often had backgrounds in Confucian studies and Chinese literati theory.

Karakane Kôryû (1675–1738), a merchant and literary scholar from Izumi Sano (in present-day Osaka), commissioned this bamboo overrobe for one of his concubines; it was thereafter treasured as a family heirloom. In 1824, on the occasion of the marriage of one of Kôryû’s great-granddaughters, the literati poet Rai San’yô (1780–1832) wrote a laudatory kanshi (a poem written entirely in Chinese characters) about the unsigned garment, thus securing its pedigree

Long sleeves of twilled silk from Wu, as white as snow.
Upon them painted bamboo thrusts as if alive.
Madam [Shimo]mara, from the north hall of the Karakane family.
In her wedding (?), precious without compare.
Carefully wrapped up at the bottom of a chest, on one dares to wear it.
Her grandmother’s thing, handed down by her mother.
Who could have paint such beautiful bamboo.
The record states by Gion known as Yoichi.
Ah, Nankai, was if he or not?
For the one in the ladies chamber, he painted the skirt of a robe.
At the time, old man Karakane was a dilettante.
On famous gardens, he composed splendid poems.
Once he persuaded the master [Nankai] to stay at his mansion.
The whole household rejoiced, waited upon him, and surrounded him like a human screen.
At times, with wine at his side, he dipped into the ink.
Droplets make Xiang rain from the movements of his hand.
[The brush,] like rising hare and swooping falcon, without care for where it might land.
Cloths and socks of the same fabric, the brush abruptly flew.
The fair ones stretched out silk in substitution of a silk canvas.
Facing straight at the skirts, here thin here plump, contesting.
Sir, do you not know that the formerly Yang Shen was exiled to Dian [Yunnan] and Shu [Sichuan]?
On the pretty girl’s robe always remains the scent of wine and ink.
Men say, "Enough to wear down a man’s spirit."
But, what the famous did was unfathomable.
The lady still knows how to respect old excellence.
What her family instructions urged was unlike present fashions.
Nowadays, the eyes of rich young men in silk trousers are callow.
She is willing to believe that ink traces are superior to fine silk garments.
I make a song to sing of this affair.
What coils in the bosom is ten-thousand-foot bamboo.
—-Rai Sanyo

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