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Workers Dyeing Cloth

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Workers Dyeing Cloth
Illustration from the series "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Explained by the Nurse"

Edo Period (1600-1868)
10 3/16 x 14 13/16 in. (25.9 x 37.7 cm)

Katsushika Hokusai
Japanese (1760 - 1849)

Full Title:Illustration from the series "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Explained by the Nurse"
Object Type: Print
Medium and Support: Color woodcut
Credit Line: Anonymous gift
Accession Number: 1972.90
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

This print illustrates the text of a poem by the Empress JitĂ´, who ruled Japan from 690 to 697. In translation, the poem reads
The spring has passed
And the summer come again;
For the silk-white robes,
So they say, are spread to dry
On the "Mount of Heaven's Perfume."

The "Mount of Heavenly Perfume" is the name of a hill southeast of the ancient capital of Nara. According to legend, the villagers of the region spread their winter clothing on the slopes of the mountain to dry. This print seems to show people bringing clothes to wash in the river and dry on poles in the background. What is actually shown, though, is the manufacture of linen cloth from flax fiber, a process that produces a very foul odor. In the original Japanese, the Empress has used the words ama and kagu, which mean respectively both "heaven and flax" and "to smell good and to smell bad." The last line of the poem, then, can also read "On the Mount of Flax's Stench," a verbal pun that Hokusai translates into a visual one.

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