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The Four Accomplishments
19th century

Utagawa Toyohiro 1773-1828)
Edo period

Color and gold on silk
H: 101.8 W: 41.5 cm
Japan

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1903.57

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The Four Accomplishments-arts to be mastered by an ideal Chinese scholar-were playing the musical instrument qin, the board game weiqi, calligraphy, and painting. This ideal was adopted in Japan and slightly modified to include koto, a type of zither played by plucking (shown at the far right), and the Japanese board game go (replaced here by sugoroku, a game similar to backgammon). Instead of scholarly gentlemen practicing the Four Accomplishments, however, these paintings show Japanese courtesans in the urban "floating world" of pleasure and entertainment. While geisha and high-class courtesans often possessed great artistic skills, their appearance in conjunction with these scholarly Chinese pursuits creates an unexpected joining of disparate themes and social contexts. This form of artistic play on the unexpected, known as mitate, was popular in literature and visual art during the Edo period (1615-1868).