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Kido Maru Learning Magic from the Tengu (1840)

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About the Art

Kido Maru sits cross-legged on the head of a giant python, hands clasped and holding two wrapped pine-sprigs in his mouth.

He has driven a dagger into the head of the serpent, and smaller snakes writhe around the embedded blade, while surrounding tengu watch. (Half-raven, half-human creatures. In Shinto, tengu are considered supernatural beings, and in Buddhism, they were known as disruptive demons and harbingers of war.)

Kido Maru himself is known as both a robber and a magician. The instruction that he receives here from the tengu is a sort of mystical experience of accepting and transcending himself - through which he unleashes a formidable power.

The symmetrical composition and ritual hand gesture are reminiscent of a tantric Buddhist painting.

Kuniyoshi was probably been inspired by a scene in an illustrated novel of 1805 by Bakin, in which Yasuuke Hakamadare and Kido Maru engage in a competition of magical powers in a cave on Mount Seki. Kido Maru conjures up a poisonous serpent, whereas Yasuuke produces an eagle.

The head of the giant python is almost as compelling as the face of Kido Maru, and it's glowing red eyes are mirrored in Kido Maru's above.

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