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Posts Tagged ‘Kusôzu’

Kusôzu [da]

onsdag den 15. maj 2013


Kusôzu, “painting of the nine stages of a decay corpse,” emerged in the 13th century, though the Buddhist teaching was introduced in Japan several centuries earlier. Kukai (774- 835), in fact, wrote poems (kusôkanshi) based on the series. The subject is always a woman and in scrolls the images are viewed right to left.

The oldest images were probably displayed in a structure at Daigoji temple in Kyoto. As Kyoto was (and still is) Japan’s religious capital for most of the country’s recorded history, much religious art, including kusôzu, is preserved in Kyoto, either by temples or museums.

See large version of the picture here

See also my earlier post on this subject: Body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition, c. 1870

Body of a courtesan in nine stages of decomposition, c. 1870 [da]

lørdag den 11. maj 2013

When I read Henri Duday’s The Archaeology of the Dead: Lectures in Archaeothanatology (Oxbow Books 2009), I stumbled upon a black and white print of the same motive from the early 19th century Japan entitled “Voyages de la Mort” showing the decomposition of a corpse in 12 vignettes. In Japanese this motive is called kusôzu, lit. ‘images of the nine stages’ - a sort of Japanese Memento Mori.

Since then I have unsuccesfully tried to find these vignettes in a colour version. What I have found instead are these fascinating drawings depicting the same motive:

Paintied handscroll by Kobayashi Eitaku (1843 - 1890).
Ink and colour on silk. Sealed.

Height: 25.5 centimetres
Width: 501.5 centimetres

Curator’s comments
The scroll shows the stages of decomposition of the body of a woman, beginning with her fully clothed body and ending with her bones being eaten by dogs. The subject is an ancient Buddhist one, treating of the transience of the physical body, but which later assumed didactic functions relating to the proper conduct of women. In this example, however, the theme is given a new and somewhat prurient twist by its featuring of a prostitute as the subject. The work intersects with the world of ‘erotic pictures’ (shunga) and gives a very useful counterpoint for studying that genre. A prolific and versatile artist trained in the traditional Kano school, Eitaku achieved success rather through ukiyoe works and newspaper illustrations, but his reputation in Japan is not yet as high as it should be. Like many important artists whose careers straddled the end of the Edo period and beginning of the Meiji era, Japanese scholars have found it problematic to classify him. (TTC, Dec 2008)

Source: britishmuseum.org

More: See further example here or here, with some interesting reflexions by Sara Reads on Kusôzu and the grotesque