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Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Chūjō-hime (中将姫) from the series Mirror of Women of Wisdom and Courage
(Kenyū fujo kagami - 賢勇婦女鏡)

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Dates: 1843 - 1844,created
Dimensions: 10.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: Japanese color woodblock print
Inscription:

Signed: Chōōrō Kuniyoshi ga
朝櫻楼国芳画
Artist's seal: kiri in red
Publisher: Takahashiya Takakichi
(Marks 512 - seal 01-127)
Censor: Tanaka

Related links: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; British Museum - Chūjō-hime in a mitate of the 24 Paragons of Filial Piety by Kuniyoshi;

Physical description:

Chūjō-hime (Princess Chūjō: 753?–781?) was by most accounts a daughter of the court noble Fujiwara no Toyonari who escaped persecution at the hands of her stepmother by becoming a nun at the Taima-dera in Nara. There she took on the name Zenshin-ni or the Dharma name Honyo (法如). She has become a folk heroine, the subject of numerous Japanese folktales which celebrate her filial piety. She is sometimes called the Japanese Cinderella. [Most of this information is taken directly from Wikipedia.]

In this print, according to Robinson (The Warrior Prints S29.2 page 119), Chūjō-hime is shown holding a string game or puzzle which, to me, looks awfully like a lotus root with lotus threads connecting them -- she is said to have dyed and woven the lotus thread into the Taima Mandala, a mandala depicting the cosmography of the Pure Land. It is said that she managed this miracle in a single night. Some versions of the story say that she was aided in the task by an apparition of Amida Butsu in response to her prayers.

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Illustrated in color in Samurai Stars of the Stage and Beautiful Women: Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, Masters of the Color Woodblock Print by Hatje Cantz, Museum Kunstpalast, p. 214, #199.

The puzzle may be solved. Cantz says:

"Chūjō-hime, the daughter of the courtier Fujiwara Toyonari (704-765), produces threads from lotus roots so as to weave a Buddhist mandala wall hanging. She plans to escape her malicious stepmother, which is why she sought refuge in Taimadera Temple as a nun by the name of Zen-shin. Chūjō-hime's mandala has been preserved in numerous later replicas, and she is revered as the patroness of female weavers."