|Kitagawa Utamoro I. Yorimasa.|
Most of these prints illustrate familiar stories or everyday scenes of light-hearted activities and pastimes. For example, in the first print above, a girl watches, hiding her smile, as two boys act out a scene from a popular play, Yorimasa, in which the brave warrior Yorimasa and his retainer slay a monster plaguing the Emperor. In the enactment above, a pet Japanese bobtail cat performs as the monster.
|Utagawa Sadakage. Detail, Pride of Edo: An Assortment of Beauties.|
|Modern kotatsu setup. Photo credit: www.johnharveyphoto.com|
|Gallery of Kitties quilt top.|
|Calendar hankie, Tammis Keefe. Note cat in image under "Oct."|
It's instructive to see how different artists, working in vastly disparate circumstances, abstracted the familiar form of the housecat. An excellent book with many cat images is Sandi Fox's Cats on Quilts; Ms. Fox not only offers up appliqued, embroidered and printed cats, but snippets of cat-themed poetry and prose. (ISBN 0-8109-5725-6)
With what silent
With what light steps
do they creep
towards a bird!
---Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)
|Suzuki Harunobu. Young Woman holding cat and young man holding mouse.|
Pets have long been associated with comfort and domesticity, and these prints, with their sumptuously depicted textiles, record and reflect aspirational consumption - the life and leisure of those fortunate enough to have animals whose sole purpose is to amuse and entertain.
|Okumura Masanobu. Courtesans Imitating the Four Sleepers.|
There is a humorous element to many of the images, and Okumura's print parodies the legend of a Buddhist monk so enlightened he blithely slept alongside a tiger, joined by two young acolytes eager to imitate their elder. In Okumura's print, a young woman, her two young attendants and her tabby cat, striped like a tiger, form a tableau vivant gently mocking the legend of the monk.
|Utagawa Kunisada I. Fond [sic] of Goldfish.|
No, the above image doesn't have a cat, but the masterly blending of purple into yellow in her kimono was just too beautiful not to include.