Chobunsai Eishi’s 19th century thought balloon

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Young Woman Dreaming of the Ise Stories Monogatari, hanging scroll, British Museum, 88.7 cm x 31.2 cm, early 19th century

This image of a courtesan who has fallen asleep while reading the Ise Stories (Ise Monogatari), shows her dreaming specifically of episode 12, where lovers are hiding in grasses from the guards of the provincial governor of Musashi Moor. The guards hold torches, threatening to burn the moor down. The courtesan perhaps imagines herself as the star-struck lover, dressed in sumptuous brocades, held by her handsome hero. The dreamer leans on a book box which holds the volumes of the story.

Eishi’s thought balloon is sensuous, graceful, and convincing. Vaguely looking like a face— the guards as its eyes and the lovers as its mouth— the thought balloon accentuates the intensity of the drama.

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