19C Japanese Blackwood Geisha Vanity

PRESENTING A GORGEOUS Mid-19C Japanese Blackwood Geisha Vanity, from circa 1840-50.

Made of RARE blackwood, native to Malaysia but made in Kyoto, Japan as a vanity unit for a Geisha.

The piece consists of a swivel vanity mirror supported by 2 curved arms or supports. The Mirror and supports sit on a box unit with 4 varying sized drawers to the top and a single drawer to the base. It ends in a molded and curved platform base with 4 corner feet.



Geisha (芸者) (/ˈɡeɪʃə/; Japanese: [ɡeːɕa]),[1][2] geiko (芸子), or geigi (芸妓) are Japanese women who entertain through performing the ancient traditions of art, dance and singing, and are distinctively characterized by traditional costumes and makeup.

Contrary to popular belief, geisha are not the Eastern equivalent of a prostitute; a misconception originating in the West due to interactions with Japanese oiran courtesans, whose traditional attire is similar to that of geisha.

In the early stages of Japanese history, there were female entertainers: Saburuko (serving girls) were mostly wandering girls whose families were displaced from struggles in the late 600s. Some of these saburuko girls sold sexual services, while others with a better education made a living by entertaining at high-class social gatherings. After the imperial court moved the capital to Heian-kyō (Kyoto) in 794 the conditions that would form geisha culture began to emerge, as it became the home of a beauty-obsessed elite.[6] Skilled female performers, such as Shirabyōshi dancers, thrived.

Traditional Japan embraced sexual delights (it is not a Shinto taboo) and men were not constrained to be faithful to their wives.[7] The ideal wife was a modest mother and manager of the home; by Confucian custom love had secondary importance. For sexual enjoyment and romantic attachment, men did not go to their wives, but to courtesans. Walled-in pleasure quarters known as yūkaku (遊廓、遊郭) were built in the 16th century,[8] and in 1617 the shogunate designated “pleasure quarters”, outside of which prostitution would be illegal,[9] and within which yūjo(“play women”) would be classified and licensed. The highest yūjo class was the geisha’s predecessor, called tayuu, a combination of actress and prostitute, originally playing on stages set in the dry Kamo riverbed in Kyoto. They performed erotic dances and skits, and this new art was dubbed kabuku, meaning “to be wild and outrageous”. The dances were called “kabuki”, and this was the beginning of kabuki theater.

These pleasure quarters quickly became glamorous entertainment centers, offering more than sex. The highly accomplished courtesans of these districts entertained their clients by dancing, singing, and playing music. Some were renowned poets and calligraphers. Gradually, they all became specialized and the new profession, purely of entertainment, arose. It was near the turn of the eighteenth century that the first entertainers of the pleasure quarters, called geisha, appeared. The first geishas were men, entertaining customers waiting to see the most popular and gifted courtesans (oiran).[9]

The forerunners of the female geisha were the teenage odoriko (“dancing girls”):[10] expensively trained as chaste dancers-for-hire. In the 1680s, they were popular paid entertainers in the private homes of upper-class samurai,[11] though many had turned to prostitution by the early 18th century. Those who were no longer teenagers (and could no longer style themselves odoriko[12]) adopted other names—one being “geisha”, after the male entertainers. The first woman known to have called herself geisha was a Fukagawa prostitute, in about 1750.[13] She was a skilled singer and shamisen player named Kikuya who was an immediate success, making female geisha extremely popular in 1750s Fukagawa.[14] As they became more widespread throughout the 1760s and 1770s, many began working only as entertainers (rather than prostitutes), often in the same establishments as male geisha.

The geisha who worked within the pleasure quarters were essentially imprisoned and strictly forbidden to sell sex in order to protect the business of the oiran. While licensed courtesans existed to meet men’s sexual needs, machi geisha carved out a separate niche as artists and erudite female companions.

By 1800, being a geisha was considered a female occupation (though there are still a handful of male geisha working today). Eventually, the gaudy Oiran began to fall out of fashion, becoming less popular than the chic (“iki“) and modern geisha.[9] By the 1830s, the evolving geisha style was emulated by fashionable women throughout society.[16] There were many different classifications and ranks of geisha. Some women would have sex with their male customers, whereas others would entertain strictly with their art forms.[17] Prostitution in Japan was legal up until 1908, so it was practiced throughout Japan.

Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geisha


19C Japanese Blackwood Geisha Vanity.

Provenance: From a Private Dallas Collection. Purchased in the AsiaPhile Antique Shop in Singapore in 1998 and sold as a Geisha Mirror and Chest from Kyoto.

Condition: Very good original condition. The mirror is held to the support arms by 2 pins. The originals are in one of the drawers to the piece and more modern screws are being used to support the mirror. The mirror is most likely a 20th Century replacement. Otherwise it is entirely original with the original drawer hardware etc.

Dimensions: 46″ Tall, 20″ Wide and 10″ Deep

PRICE Now: $3,250

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