Torii Kiyonaga‘s ‘Twelve Holds in the Way of Sex (Shikido juniban) is definitely one of the big early ukiyo-e oban series. The included tableaus portray gracefully curved shapes highlighted by flowing kimono’s that are beautified with clear patterns, in a limited color scheme.
The placing of interior accessories, such as geisha pillows, screens, braziers or mirrors, locates the love-making protagonists and provides perspective. Unlike Katsukawa Shuncho’s series ‘Erotic Prints for the Twelve Months (Koshoku zue juniko, c.1784)‘, architectural aspects do not play a role in Kiyonaga’s compositions. The lovers portrayed are alternately married couples, secret lovers, or geisha with their customers in the Yoshiwara.
This first scene (Fig.1.) from Kiyonaga’s major work takes place in the pleasure quarter. Not the Yoshiwara, but one of the lower levels of bordello, such as the Futagawa. The man is clearly applauded for the size of his phallus as suggested by the longing gaze of the geisha. She urges him to get on with the action.
Aside from the bedspread, the principal ornament is a harimaze screen – with various paintings mounted on it, that of the peonies being signed “So Shiseki”, a popular Nanga (litarati) artist of the time.
This impression (Fig.2.) lacks the accompanying text, which has obviously been removed from the keyblock. From the version of the print with text, we learn that a regular customer of a Yoshiwara brothel forces himself upon a shinzō, frustrated that he has been stood up by the oiran with whom he had an appointment.
Yoshiwara etiquette stipulated that customers of high-ranking brothels were not allowed to have sexual relations with these young trainee courtesans. Yoshiwara expert Cecilia Segawa Seigle describes these playful adolescents as a ‘giggling group of fresh-faced surrogates sent to appease an unrequited client while his courtesan was occupied elsewhere.’
A housemaid has an encounter with her lover (Fig.3.). Their conversation reveals that she is the one who encourages him. The white paper that she is wearing is called an ageboshi. These were usually worn to protect the hairstyles. The breaking waves featured on the screen in the back underline their passion.
Pleasures of Private Life
In Fig.4. the action starts passionately, but the location is not that of the obsessive world of the pleasure quarter but a townsman and his wife, enjoying the pleasures of private life.
According to Dr. Richard Lane, ‘The nice balance of heads and black bedding at right renders this one of the masterpieces of the series, despite the slight awkwardness in the depiction of the genitalia: a result of the artist’s striving to show every detail possible.’
‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies: Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period‘ by Chris Uhlenbeck et al.
‘The Complete Ukiyo-e Shunga: “Kiyonaga: Shunga Up Your Sleeve” – Sode no Maki and more‘ (Vol.24) by Richard Lane