Hana Moyo (Flower Patterns) & Kodai Moyo (Ancient Patterns) by Kobayashi Kiyochika

The publisher Takekawa Seikichi launched a new phase in Kobayashi Kiyochika‘s print designs in late 1895 with a series of triptychs depicting women. Takekawa had published Kiyochika’s works as early as November 1876, but very few and generally limited to historical and war prints in conventional style. In these new series, Takekawa was doubtless responding to popular demand, since prints of women were very much in vogue.

First of three successive series published by Takekawa was “Pleasures of the Four Seasons” (Shiki asobi), triptychs showing contemporary gatherings of women engaged in musical and literary pursuits. Next came “Flower Patterns”, of which ten prints are known with dates ranging from February to September 1896, followed by what appears to be a sequel, “Antique Patterns”.

All the triptychs in the “Patterns” series feature the unusual composition of enlarged figures or busts of women against a distant background depicting customs of a particular historical era. The term “patterns” (moyō) would seem to refer both to the elegant designs of the costumes on the foreground figures and to the background tableaux.

The “flowers” of the series “Flower Patterns” and “Ancient Patterns” are the beautiful women themselves, some obviously courtesans but others of less specific identity. The titles of the ten prints refer to specific eras of the Tokugawa period, distributed fairly evenly from Keichō (1596-1615) through Tenpō (1830-1844).