Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Enshoku shinasadame 艶色品定女, ca. 1850s

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (Japanese, 1786 – 1864)

Author: Unknown

TitleEnshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女)

Date: Unknown, ca.1850s

Medium: Full color woodblock book print; ink and color on paper

Publisher: No publisher identified

Gift of Arthur Tress. Box 34, Item 19.


Enshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女, translated as “Evaluating Erotic Encounters”) is a three-volume set of luxurious erotic prints employing rich materials — saturated colors, intricate embossing, heavy paper and metallic pigments.

This three-volume book updates scenes from The Tale of Genji as erotica. The title, Enshoku shinasadame, refers to the episode where Prince Genji and his friends rank the ideal traits for women. Other references to the classic appear throughout. Each volume opens with images of shells inscribed with headings to serve as the table of contents. The shell motif is repeated on subsequent pages; each page includes a shell containing a small scene from The Tale of Genji, thus providing the literary allusion for the erotic scene. The shell motif also refers to the shell matching game called kaiawase, a memory game where players match halves of shells with scenes painted on their interiors. The illustrations comprise the first half of each volume and are followed by short erotic stories.


This is one of the most beautifully printed books in the Tress collection, featuring saturated colors, intricate embossing, and metallic pigments on thick paper. This book is attributed to Utagawa Kunisada, one of the most commercially successful ukiyo-e designers in the late Edo period. Kunisada produced great quantities of sophisticated prints over some fifty years; it is estimated that he generated over fifteen thousand designs, plus illustrations for around six hundred books. In sheer output, his body of work outnumbers that of his rivals. Erotica was produced by many ukiyo-e artists with production ranging from inexpensive booklets to exquisite works as seen here.


Other copies of this book series:

The Spencer Collection of NYPL (partial)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (vol. 1-3)

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (vol. 1-3)

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection (vol. 1-3)


Selected Readings:

  • Gerstle, Andrew, T. Clark, Aki Ishigami, and Akiko Yano. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. British Museum Press, 2013.
  • Smith, Henry. “Overcoming the Modern History of Edo ‘Shunga’,” 1750-1850 (1996), pp. 17-20.
  • Carpenter, John T., Melissa McCormick, Monika Bincsik, Kyoko Kinoshita, and Sano Midori. The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019, pp. 310-311.
  • Keyes, Roger S. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan. New York Public Library, 2006, pp. 226.
  • https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78660
  • http://www.pulverer.si.edu/node/580/title/1


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

November 12th, 2019