A Woman Dressing a Girl for a the Kabuki Dance “Musume Dojōji,” with “Brother Picture” (E-kyōdai) of a Monkey Trainer

Kitagawa Utamaro Japanese

Not on view

The Ukiyo-e artist inserted a small picture within his composition to thrust one scenic idea into the heart of another and thereby generate a compelling dialogue between the two. Until the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the picture within a picture was formulated according to a literal representation of real objects, such as a folding fan, an uchiwa fan, a hanging scroll, or a mural. But the pictorial merits of the picture within a picture had become so compelling that artists began to apply the principle directly and abstractly without troubling to contain it within real objects. Therefore, artists in Utamaro's generation incorporated small pictures into their compositions without any such representational excuses. They invented the "E-kyodai," literally "brother picture." As is seen here, this is a secondary picture in a rectangular cartouche superimposed on the composition which reflects the main image, setting up an intriguing comparison that deepens the meaning.

In this scene an ambitious mother is dressing her daughter to prepare her for her role of Kiyohime in the Kabuki dance "Musume Dojōji." In the upper vignette, we see a kind of monkey vaudeville act that is a parody of another Kabuki play, "Imoseyama." Thus, by association with the monkey skit, Utamaro casts the lower drama in a humorous, ironic light, suggesting that the daughter is tied to her ambitious mother's apron strings like a monkey to its master.

A Woman Dressing a Girl for a the Kabuki Dance “Musume Dojōji,” with “Brother Picture” (E-kyōdai) of a Monkey Trainer, Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1754–1806), Woodblock print in the e-kyodai format; ink and color on paper, Japan

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