Kitagawa Utamaro
Transferring Silkworm Eggs to Sheets of Paper
c. 1798

Signed: Utamaro hitsu; Publisher’s logo (Tsuruya Ki’emon); ōban, 38.5 x 25.5 cm; murasaki-e

Print 1 from “Women Engaged in Sericulture”. This is the first print of a twelve-part polyptychon in muted colours on the topic of silk production – like the benigirai-e by Eishi and Shunman, no red or pink is used here. The source Utamaro used is unknown. Shunshō and Shigemasa had produced series on sericulture before him, but Utamaro probably based his work on illustrated books that are unknown to us now.

A. Lemp, Zurich (April 1961)
Riese Collection #74

This is the first of a series with twelve prints depicting the raising of silkworms and the manufacture of silk cloth. The twelve prints from one continuous composition, one of the largest polyptychs in the history of ukiyo-e. The series is also interesting for its muted colour. Eishi and Shunman in the 1780s designed prints with limited colour schemes which, because they did not use red or pink, were called benigirai-e. Utamaro has followed their example, limiting his palette to blue, purple, grey, yellow and green.
The source of Utamaro’s series is not presently known. An earlier set about sericulture by Shunshō and Shigemasa may have served as an indirect source, but it is likely that Utamaro based his set, or parts of it, on earlier book illustrations which are at present unknown.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 66.