A Digital Curiosity Cabinet

Takiyasha and the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre, V&A Museum

Takiyasha and the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre,  © V&A Museum

Takiyasha and the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre, © V&A Museum

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, the Japanese artist, was famous for his depictions of history and legends. The scene shown here is from a popular novel called the Story of Uto Yasutaka, that was written by Santo Kyoden in 1807. Princess Takiyasha was the daughter of the warlord Taira no Masakado who started a rebellion against the Emperor of Japan in Kyoto. However his rebellion was put down in 939 AD  and Masakado was killed. After his death, Princess continued to live in the ruined palace of Soma. This print shows the scene when the emperor’s official, oya Mitsukini comes to search for any surviving conspirators. The princess is reciting a spell written on a handscroll. She summons up a giant skeleton that appears out of a black void, crashing through the tattered palace blinds with its bony fingers to menace Mitsukini and his companion.

The skeleton shows Kuniyoshi’s knowledge of anatomy. The artist probably referred to a book that depicted Western anatomical drawings. Prints like this are made by carving a patterns onto a wooden block, that is then printed onto paper or fabric. The artist has used several woodblocks to create this print, using one block for each colour. Kuniyoshi has used the triptych format to create a dramatic effect, spreading the large forms across three sheets.

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