Ukita Ikkei (Japanese, 17951859)
Handscroll; ink and color on paper; 11 3/4 in. x 25 ft. 6 in. (29.8 x 777.2 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1957 (57.156.7)
During the first half of the nineteenth century, a circle of yamato-e art painters in Kyoto turned their art to oppose the decaying Tokugawa shogunate. Perhaps the most important work of this yamato-e revival is the picture scroll Tale of a Strange Marriage, an incomplete work of five episodes. It climaxes in the fourth scene, where a fox couple exchange vows in the elaborate Shinto ritual of the Heian court. Despite the rich beauty of the brilliant mineral pigments, traditional for paintings of court nobility, the unnatural wedding has an eerie, prurient aura. Unmistakable visual references to one of the most treasured handscrolls of the aristocratic traditionMiracles of the Kasuga Shrine, completed in 1309 by the court painter Takashina Takakaneand to a later tradition of goblin tales would have intensified the horrific satire for the painter, Ukita Ikkei, and his circle. Ikkei, who painted for the imperial court in Kyoto and had earlier copied the original Kasuga scroll, took scenes from that work as the setting for this vision of sacrilege inspired by deeply felt opposition to the proposed marriage of the shogun Iemochi into the imperial family. Supposedly intended to inspire the court faction to prevent the marriage, this scroll's text was never completed because of Ikkei's arrest, presumably for defamation, and his subsequent death in 1859.