Tagasode (“Whose Sleeves?”)

Momoyama (1573–1615) or Edo (1615–1868) period
first half of the 17th century
Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, gold, and silver on gilded paper
Overall (each screen): 59 1/4 x 10 ft. 10 11/16 in. (150.5 x 332 cm)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Mrs. Dunbar W. Bostwick, John C. Wilmerding, J. Watson Webb Jr., Harry H. Webb, and Samuel B. Webb, 1962
Accession Number:
62.36.2, .3
  • Description

    A group of unique screens bearing the poetic sobriquet tagasode byōbu (“Whose sleeves?” screens) depict an array of sumptuously patterned garments draped over clothing stands; a few examples also include two or three figures of women. Initially, the creators of these compositions may have sought to evoke classical waka poetry, in which the word tagasode implied a longing for an absent woman whose elegant garments and other accoutrements were all that remained as reminders of her beauty. More than forty examples of tagasode byōbu and at least two pairs with figures of women are in existence. Painting and textile historians are in disagreement over the evolutionary sequence of the screens. Scholars of painting believe that they evolved from works depicting panoramic cityscapes of Kyoto; the perspective then narrowed to close-up views of single street scenes or intimate gatherings in indoor or outdoor settings. Over time, individuals or groups of figures became the dominant focus, and ultimately the figures disappeared, leaving only a hint of their former presence amid garments draped over clothing stands. Textile historians propose the reverse chronology, and further study is necessary before the question can be settled.

    The garments depicted on this pair of screens reflect fashion trends of the late sixteenth through the early seventeenth century. Ten other tagasode screens, produced from the early seventeenth through the nineteenth century, replicate this specific composition. They may have served some commemorative function that has not yet been clarified.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History