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Daily Art Moment: Kitao Shigemasa

This print is one of 12 split-screen compositions that represent each month of the year. Much like writing resolutions or eating black-eyed peas, The First Month shows activities associated with New Year celebrations. At the top, a handsome young man writes New Year greetings on a sheaf of paper tied to the decorative pine. A young woman watches him from a veranda, gift boxes already stacked inside on the tatami flooring. Below, at much smaller scale, an older woman brings daikon radish to a man who appears to be chopping vegetables for nanakusa, the seven-herbs porridge, a ceremonial dish eaten for good luck in the New Year. All of these motifs would have been immediately recognizable to contemporary viewers. What’s unusual here is the combination of “day and night” scenes in a dynamic split-screen format, cut by a diagonal zigzag line.

Jeannie Kenmotsu, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art

Kitao Shigemasa (Japanese, 1739–1820). The First Month: New Year Visits, The Seven Herbs Ceremony (Mutsuki, Nenrei, Nanakusa), ca. 1772/1775, color woodblock print on paper, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Asian Art Council, public domain, 2020.13.1