Hell Courtesan



Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎

(Japanese, 1831–1889)
Image: 144.2 x 67.6 cm (56 3/4 x 26 5/8 in.); Overall: 233.7 x 92.1 cm (92 x 36 1/4 in.)
Location: not on view
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Did You Know?

The word for longevity appears multiple times in gold and silver on her outer robe.


Kawanabe Kyōsai repeated this large-scale composition with variations a number of times. In this version, a famous 15th-century courtesan known for wearing a robe with images of the Buddhist hells stands before a folding screen. Legend has it that she was abducted by bandits, and wore the garment to symbolize her belief that her suffering in her current life was punishment for sins committed in a former life. Here, in a parody depiction of the garment, the courtesan stands in for Benzaiten, the goddess of everything that flows, while the remaining members of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune appear on her outer robe. One of them reports sins to Enma, the King of Hell, who is writing out his judgments on the recently deceased.
Hell Courtesan

Hell Courtesan


Kawanabe Kyōsai

(Japanese, 1831–1889)
Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912)

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