Red-Robed Courtesan (parody of Bodhidharma)

Accession Number

Red-Robed Courtesan (parody of Bodhidharma)

Kitao Masanobu

Object Creation Date
circa 1775-1785

Medium & Support
color woodblock pillar print on paper

36 in. x 8 in. ( 91.4 cm x 20.3 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
Gallery Rotation Fall 2013
Kitao Masanobu
Japan, 1761–1816
Red-Robed Courtesan in the Guise of Bodhidharma
Edo period (1615–1868)
circa 1775–85
Pillar-format color woodblock print on paper
Museum purchase, 1960/1.148
Terms and imagery from Zen Buddhism entered the vocabulary of popular culture in both China and Japan. This woodblock print illustrates a well-known pun: in eighteenth-century Japan, one of the many nicknames for a prostitute was daruma, which is also the Japanese epithet for Bodhidharma, the great Zen patriarch. In this print by Kitao Masanobu, a visual equivalence between prostitute and patriarch is suggested through the simple means of dressing the woman in a red robe that covers her head, a convention common to images of Bodhidharma. There were many layers of literary and sexual allusion in the pun, most too ribald to be explained here, but one cherished belief held that prostitutes were enlightened beings. This notion had some foundation in a canonical scripture that narrates the pilgrimage of the prince Sudhana to fifty-five masters of the dharma (Buddhist law), one of whom was with the “Queen of the Night” An image that visually collapses the identity of a prostitute and a saint is also entirely in keeping with Zen’s admonishment that things are not what they appear to be.
Masanobu was a successful painter and print designer who specialized in bijinga (“pictures of beautiful women”). To his contemporaries and to modern Japanese, however, he is better known as a writer of popular novels under the pseudonym Santô Kyôden. His literary bent is apparent in the poems inscribed on the print, one in Chinese and one in Japanese.

Subject matter
A female prostitute wearing a red robe with a hood, disguising herself as the Bodhidharma. This is a parody of the fact that the nickname for a prostitute was daruma, an epithet for Bodhidharma. The image depicts an equivalence between the prostiue and the patriarch Bodhidharma.

Physical Description
A woodblock print on paper depicting the image of a woman in a red robe and holding a smoking pipe. A corresponding poem inscribed at the top in both Chinese and Japanese.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
color print

Collection Area

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Zen masters

& Author Notes

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