Preliminary drawing (shita-e) for a tetraptych - Utagawa School - A place of pilgrimage - a temple district with waterfall

Painting


1800s
31.5 in x 15.25 in (Overall dimensions) Preliminary drawing (shita-e) for a Japanese multi-panel woodblock print.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - Sadahide triptych of the waterfall/temple complex at Ōyama

The depicted scenery must be a well-known and popular temple district where pilgrims traveled to do penance under a waterfall. Starting from right to left we see, in a valley in the distance, the main temple area surrounded by woods.

In the foreground a group of pilgrims are seated under a straw roof, among them one warming up by a fire, one other reading a book. Two men sitting on wicker-baskets, one tying up his shoes, behind him an arriving pilgrim addressing the latter person. In the lower right corner is a scruffy looking man who may well be a mendicant priest. Next to him on the ground is a tea kettle, a cup and a kongō or vajra, a Buddhist ritual piece.

While leading the eye further to the left we meet a group of onlookers staring- a bit frightened as it seems - at a woman under a waterfall who suffers from the ice-cold water to such a degree that two strong men are needed to make her stay, these two probably being the porters of the load we saw near the fire. In the left part of the drawing we recognize three instances with 'pentimenti', revealing corrections to head positions of three of the figures.

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One of the clues to identifying this drawing is the woman on the far left being held under the cold cascade of water falling on her. Is this a mitate? Did the woman go to the waterfall in an act of penance? As of now we don't know, but perhaps we will in time. There are many examples of Hatsuhana sitting under a waterfall, but no one has to hold her there. There is also a Kuniyoshi print in the British Museum of O-tsuji, a nursemaid, who voluntarily sits under a waterfall.

Another clue may be the temple or shrine in the background that was built near this waterfall. That complex has two sets of stairs. Perhaps this will help us to narrow our search. For example, there are stairs at Rōben waterfall at Ōyama in Sōshū. There are also some lesser, ritual waterfall in the area. See the link above to a Sadahide triptych of this complex.

The temple at Meguro could be another possible location, but it doesn't seem as likely.