Monday, November 28, 2011

Ghost at will ...

Edo period, around AD 1844

From a tenth-century legend

Princess Takiyasha was the daughter of the provincial warlord Taira no Masakado who tried to set up an 'Eastern Court' in Shimōsa Province in competition with the emperor in Kyoto. However, his rebellion was put down in AD 939 and Masakado was killed. After his death, Princess Takiyasha continued living in the ruined palace of Sōma.

This print shows the episode from the legend when the emperor's official, ōya no Mitsukuni, comes to search for surviving conspirators. The princess is reciting a spell written on a handscroll. She summons up a giant skeleton which comes rearing out of a terrifying black void, crashing its way through the tattered palace blinds with its bony fingers to menace Mitsukuni and his companion.

Kuniyoshi, the artist, probably referred to an illustration in his collection of western prints to produce this grinning skeleton in all its accuracy of detail.

The legend was also the theme of a Kabuki play. At the time that this print was made the Tempō Reforms had made it illegal to depict Kabuki actors and theatre scenes in woodblock prints, so Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) may have produced this 'historical' version of the story in order to get round the law. Kuniyoshi often used the triptych format (three prints forming a single composition) to dramatic effect, spreading large forms across all three sheets.

L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)