Jigoku dayu (Hell Courtesan)

Kawanabe Kyōsai1874, Meiji period (1868–1912)

Spencer Museum of Art

Spencer Museum of Art
Lawrence, United States

Using an arm to prop up her head, this woman dreams of numerous skeletons playing, dancing, drinking and frolicking about her. She is not disturbed by these visions, though, because she is the Hell Courtesan, identified by the image of the King of Hell on the lower portion of her costume. Shrouding most of her body is a brilliant red robe that suggests she is impersonating the Buddhist monk Daruma (in Sanskrit Bodhidharma). Though Daruma is not physically present, it is not uncommon to see satirical images of this holy figure bewitched by a beautiful courtesan. This convention seems to suggest that the Hell Courtesan proves irresistible even to the most holy.

This print comes from a series of fifteen that satarize the Meiji period (1868-1912) when Japan was experiencing significant changes in government and society. Kyosai was both a painter and a print designer who often depicted bizarre, ironic and comic subjects. His wild imagination and creativity earned him renown during his lifetime and after.


  • Title: Jigoku dayu (Hell Courtesan)
  • Creator: Kawanabe Kyōsai
  • Date Created: 1874, Meiji period (1868–1912)
  • Physical Dimensions: Image Dimensions Height/Width: 335 x 227 mm, Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 355 x 241 mm, Image Dimensions Height/Width: 13 3/16 x 8 7/8 in, Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 14 x 9 1/2 in, Mat Dimensions: 19 x 14 in
  • Type: prints
  • Medium: color woodcut

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