Crime & Punishment in Early Edo

Two extraordinary emaki (picture scrolls), depicting in a series of fine, complex large paintings, a series of incredibly violent crimes & punishments, involving much bloodshed.

Two scrolls (370 x 7430 mm.; 370 x 3790 mm.), carefully backed at an early date. [Japan]: no date, but late Edo.

We have never seen anything like this before: these two picture scrolls depict a series of vivid (vivid is an understatement) scenes of incredibly violent acts against families, women, and men. The anonymous artist of these two scrolls was highly accomplished and, in bright colors, has portrayed a series of horrible acts. He has heightened many of the paintings with metallic pigments and rich colors. Our description below understates the violence, gore, and horror displayed on our two scrolls.

Scroll One:

1. The first scene uses the technique of fukinuki yatai (“roof blown off”), to depict a group of 19 home invaders who have taken over a luxurious walled mansion and its residents. While some of the burglars are removing valuables, others are killing the residents with swords (plenty of spurting blood), sexually assaulting women, gagging women, kidnapping children, and throwing children down wells. Several male residents are tied up and clearly about to be murdered.

2. The next scene depicts one of the burglars outside of the compound. He has captured a fleeing woman, tied her up, and it is clear he is preparing to violate her.

3. Here we find four ugly bandits who have attacked a group of travellers, stripping them of their clothes, leaving several of the women naked, sobbing.

4. This scene depicts two bandits who have attacked a family. The naked parents are tied to a tree, and the son watches in horror as the bandits take his sister and all their clothes.

5. This scene shows a female criminal being tortured (“water boarded”) by three men. We believe the men (who look like criminals) are former bandits engaged by the government to protect the citizenry in the time of Ieyasu.

6. This scene is just awful: two women (a mother and an older sister), who have been sexually assaulted, have committed suicide, one by hanging, the other by stabbing herself in the neck. Standing by are a sobbing lady-in-waiting, a younger sister, and her young samurai brother, who failed to protect them.

7. Here we have a murder scene investigation. A couple lies dead, covered in blood. The woman is naked. A bugyo is seated, overseeing the investigation while three other men inspect the bodies.

8. The final scene of this scroll shows a man about to commit seppuku.

Scroll Two:

1. Here we see a desperate man, chained to a post, burning in an inferno.

2. This scene shows an execution site with skulls and bones in the background. A government official has beheaded one man already, and the victim’s head has been mounted on a post. Two other kneeling and bound men are awaiting their own beheadings.

3. This scene is filled with spewing blood: a man has been pinned to a post, and two men are stabbing him with long spears. Blood is spraying everywhere.

4. This scene shows an executioner sawing a criminal’s head in half. The victim is buried in the ground, save for his head.

5. This final scene is most unpleasant: a criminal has been pinned to a thick post. His legs have been tied to two oxen’s legs. The oxen have been set on fire and are running away — with the criminal’s legs — in opposing directions, thereby pulling him apart.
In fine condition, preserved in a modern paper box.

Price: $13,500.00

Item ID: 7966

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