Kesa Gozen

Utagawa Kunisada, Japanese, 1786 - 1865



Color woodblock print

Sheet: 14 1/8 × 9 7/8 in. (35.9 × 25.1 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through a gift from Judith L. and Joseph N. Barker, Class of 1966


Portfolio / Series Title

Kokon meifu den (Stories of Famous Women)


Place Made: Japan, East Asia, Asia


19th century

Object Name


Research Area


Not on view


Signed, Kio Toyokuni ga within the artist's Toshidama cartouche, published by Sakanaya Eikichi of Uoya, with combined censor and date seal Inu-roku, aratame (year of the dog [1862], 6th month, examined)


With her honor and her mother’s life at stake, Kesa develops a desperate plan to appease End : she agrees to marry him on the condition that he first kill her husband. Traditional Confucian ethics insisted that children respect and honor their parents. Wives were expected to uphold similarly deferential relationships with their husbands. Forced to choose between the life of her mother and that of her husband, Kesa chooses the only possible solution left to her. She informs End that her husband sleeps in the west wing of their residence, and that he can identify him in the dark house by his hair, which he washes every evening before retiring. On the evening of the murder, Kesa offers cup after cup of sake to her husband, until he is too drunk to realize that she is putting him to bed in her room on the east side of the residence. Kunisada’s print shows Kesa washing her hair before entering her husband’s bed to await her fate. Though print artists had occasionally dabbled in military themes since the late 1600s, warrior prints (musha-e) emerged as a dominant print genre in the early to mid-1800s. Most early warrior prints focused on the battlefield heroics of both fictional and historically verifiable samurai. But when censorship laws enacted in the early 1840s temporarily halted production of prints depicting contemporary women, print artists responded with images of courageous women made famous in military chronicles, folk tales, and theatrical traditions. By the early 1860s, when Kunisada designed this print series devoted entirely to famous women, heroines such as Kesa Gozen had become popular subjects of the musha-e tradition.

From the 2019 exhibition Narratives in Japanese Woodblock Prints, guest curated by Allen Hockley, Associate Professor of Art History at Dartmouth

Course History

ARTH 62.30/ASCL 62.12, Japanese Prints, Allen Hockley, Spring 2022

Art History 62.30, Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages 62.12, Japanese Prints, Allen Hockley, Summer 2023

Exhibition History

Narratives in Japanese Woodblock Prints, Class of 1967 Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 27-June 9, 2019.


Scholten Japanese Art, New York, New York; sold to present collection, 2019.

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