Courtesan Painting a Screen, from a series of 12 erotic prints

Art Institute of Chicago

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Many oiran, or high-ranking Japanese courtesans, were celebrated and skilled artists during the Edo period, even known to donate paintings as offerings to temples. This woodblock print of a courtesan painting delicate foliage on a screen is from a series of 12 erotic prints, a genre known as shunga. The oiran’s patron lounges, gazing at her artistry, while her young assistant appears to help with the art. The assistant is likely a kamuro, child assistant to an oiran, or a shinzō, a trainee oiran. The print’s subject matter and its classification as erotic art implies that watching a skilled courtesan paint was one of the sensual pleasures of her company.

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