1916 Japanese Woodblock Print – SILK WORMS – 12 STAGES – Shunshô and Shigemasa

Shunshô and Shigemasa
Cultivating Silk Worms
And 12 Stages of Silk Production
Japanese Colour Woodblock Prints
Rare Eighteenth Century Tutorial

Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820) and Katsukawa Shunshô (1725-1792)

Kaiko yashinaigusa (Cultivation of Silk Worms)

A complete series of 12 Edo or Tokugawa Period Chuban Japanese Woodblock Prints on sericulture (silk production), bound in book form and first produced in 1772 (Meiwa 9/An’ei 1) by Kitao Shigemasa. Designed collaboratively with Katsukawa Shunsho with six prints by Kitao Shigemasa and six by Katsukawa Shunshô. It was reprinted in 1776, 1786, and then later in 1916 (as here).

The prints show the twelve stages of silk production, comprising:

1) Laying eggs on a sheet of paper
2) Picking mulberry leaves to feed larvae
3) Transferring grown silkworms to other bamboo mats and feeding them
4) Re-activating worms after sleep
5) Feeding larvae with mulberry leaves
6) Placing cocoons on trays
7) Arranging male and female moths to lay eggs
8) Silkworm moth flying after hatching cocoon
9) Hand-spinning thread from cocoons in a pan of boiling water
10) Stretching silk floss on wooden posts
11) Spinning silk
12) Weaving silk on loom

The 6 prints by Shunshô are nos. 1, 3, 6, 8, 11, 12
The 6 Prints by Shigemasa are nos. 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10
chuban tate-e: Image size (23cm x 17cm) – sheet size (30cm x 21cm)
Very pleasingly bound in book form with silk cloth covers showing silk moths.

Ukiyo-e artists Shigemasa (1739-1820) and Shunsho (1726-1793) were best known for geisha paintings, haikai (poetry), and shodo (calligraphy). Shigemasa primarily created books, though he did produce separate prints. He may have been a pupil of Nishimura Shigenaga but little else is known about his education. Katsukawa Shunsho, Shigemasa’s collaborator, was “one of the unquestionably great masters of Ukiyo-e, outstanding as painter and print-designer”. A student of Miyagawa Shunsui (also known as Katsukawa), Shunsho founded his own eponymous sub-school.

Kitao Shigemasa “was unusual among ukiyo-e artists because he was self-taught. His family ran a bookshop, and the young Shigemasa probably learnt his skills from studying illustrations in books sold in the family shop. His first works gained recognition during the late 1750s. Extant early works are benizuri-e and yakusha-e, but his principal output is in book illustration, which he practiced throughout his career and which became the speciality of the Kitao school, of which he was the founder…His students included Kitao Masanobu, Keisai Masayoshi (1764-1824) and Kubo Shunman.” (Oxford Art online)

Shigemasa was the eldest son of the bookseller and publisher Suharaya Mohei whose premises were located in Nihonbashi. He was initially self-taught but later became a student of Nishimura Shigenaga (1697-1756). Shigemasa’s early work showed the influence of Suzuki Harunobu (ca. 1725-1770), and he collaborated with Katsukawa Shunsho (1726-1793), first on the series, Silkworm Cultivation (Kaiko yashinai gusa) in ca. 1772, and later on the grand illustrated book, Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses (Seiro bijin awase sugata) in 1776.

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