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In the Ruined Palace at Sôma, Masakado's Daughter Takiyasha Uses Sorcery to Gather Allies (1844)

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About the Art

Here, Kuniyoshi captures the moment when princess Takiyasha summons a giant skeletal specter against her enemies. It looms out of a black abyss and pulls down the partition to glare at the emperor's retainer Mitsikuni, sent to eliminate the princess and her allies.

Princess Takiyasha was the daughter of warlord Taira Masakado, who rebelled against the imperial court in Kyoto, setting up his own Eastern court. The rebellion was put down and Masakado was decapitated for his treachery. However, his daughter survived him and continued living in his ruined palace at Soma.

The emperor dispatched the samurai Mitsukuni to hunt down the princess (who had become a witch) and her remaining allies. In this scene, Mitsukuni is at the palace, which was haunted by the ghosts of the soldiers that died fighting. Princess Takiyasha reads from a scroll and summons the spirits of the soldiers as one, in the form of a towering skeleton.

The brave Mitsukuni looks defiantly back at the specter, as he strikes a rebel with a sheathed sword and pins his opponent's weapon to the floor with his foot.

He goes on to defeat the rebels.

If Kuniyoshi has a single greatest masterpiece, many believe that this is it. Original copies are extremely rare and can fetch $25,000, if they are for sale at all.

Aside from the stunning composition and detail that we can expect from Kuniyoshi, one intriguing point of interest is the detailed anatomical representation of the skeleton. This true-to-life, anatomical drawing was likely taken from Dutch academic references, which were just beginning to find their way into a newly open Japanese society at the time.

The way that the skeleton pulls down the curtain to peer above is likely a nod to Hokusai's print, from the ghostly tale of Kohada Koheiji, which you can learn more about here.

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