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Relief Prints

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Scene from the Puppet Drama A Syllabary of Rise and Fall

Edo Period (1600-1868)
12 5/16 x 5 11/16 in. (31.2 x 14.4 cm)

Katsukawa Shunshô
Japanese (1726 - 1792) Designer

Object Type: Print
Medium and Support: Color woodcut
Credit Line: Transfer from the Art Department of the University of Rochester
Accession Number: 1997.106
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Location: Not currently on view

This print, the last in a series of eight, represents the highlight of act 4 of the puppet drama A Syllabary of Rise and Fall. The scene refers to the moment when the courtesan Umegae produces a shower of gold coins from a stone basin. Desperate for money to redeem the warrior's armor she pawned to pay her lover's debts, the distraught Umegae shakes out her elaborate courtesan's hairdo and lets her outer robe slip from her shoulders. In her delirium, she strikes a stone basin in the garden with a wooden ladle as if it were the muken no kane, or "Limitless Bell," that legend says will provide "limitless gold"—also called muken no kane—to whomever strikes it. The soul, though, will ever after suffer limitless torment in hell. In response to her great sincerity of purpose, she is showered with the gold coins she so desires and can redeem the pawned armor.

A Syllabary of Rise and Fall was first performed in 1739 at the Takemoto-za Theater in Osaka. The role of the courtesan Umegae, also known as Chidori, was most famously performed by the celebrated actor of female roles Segawa Kikunojo (1693-1749), whose crest is seen here among the chrysanthemums in the pattern of the half-shed cloak.

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