Diseases and Deformities (Yamai no Sōshi); Hermaphrodite

Unknown12th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

This collection of paintings, which were originally in narrative handscroll (emaki) format, illustrates various cases of illnesses, such as a man with Bell’s palsy who cannot control his facial expressions, a man with a short tongue, and a woman with cholera. The illustrations not only freely capture in undulating lines the social statuses, ages, physiques, postures, and patients’ conditions but also skillfully express a mixture of complex emotions from the anguish of the patients to the sympathy, bewilderment, and even scorn of those around them. With astute discernment, the painters graphically depicted the psychology of those tormented with different ailments in such scenes as the so-called treatment of a man with an eye disease to a woman with halitosis. There are also scenes in which attention is given to the pain that accompanies certain conditions such as the man with anal fistula (many anuses).
Of the fifteen illustrations from one volume that existed until the late Edo period, the Kyoto National Museum owns ten segments with nine illustrated sections. Altogether there are twenty existing paintings that appear to have come from this series including three illustrations with text, written in the same hand, and one illustrated section, which is stylistically similar but missing its textual description.
Diseases and Deformities share similarities with Hell Scrolls (Jigoku zōshi) and Tales of Hungry Ghosts (Gaki zōshi), such as sections primarily with illustration and short text, calligraphic styles in the textual sections, painting styles in parts, and measurements, suggesting that they may have originally been composed as images of the Six Paths of Transmigration (rokudō-e). At the same time, however, the textual sections of Disease and Deformities consist of narrative tales as well as descriptions of symptoms and ailments, while the other two narrative handscrolls are based on Buddhist scriptures and tales.


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