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A female immortal riding on a white deer
early 19th century

Kishi Ganku , (Japanese, 1749-1838)
Edo period

Ink, color and gold on silk
H: 0.0 W: 54.9 cm

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1894.29

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A female Chinese immortal who holds a red fly-whisk rides a deer that is a symbol of long life in Japan. The image may represent a female counterpart to the popular Chinese Daoist deity of long life, who is known in Japanese as Jurojin. The longevity theme is also represented by the fungus of longevity that grows from the rocks. Jurojin is usually represented as an elderly man, whereas this deity is a young woman. The substitution of a beautiful, youthful woman for the familiar Jurojin may be an example of mitate, a literary and artistic device that creates unexpected parallels or comparisons between dissimilar subjects. The painting was created during a vogue for paintings of "Chinese beauties" that was begun by Maruyama Okyo in the eighteenth century. The inscription, a two-line couplet in Chinese, reads:

While sitting at home she makes a lute her companion,
While she travels abroad a deer attends upon her.

The poem is signed Gyokuen, the literary name of the Confucian scholar and calligrapher Tatsu Seika (1751–1821). The painter, Kishi Ganku, studied Chinese-style painting as well as the style of Maruyama Okyo and his followers. The fluid, descriptive lines and delicate colors of the costume reflect the influence of the Okyo school.

(Translation of poem by William R. B. Acker)

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