Battle between Monkeys and a Crab, by Ike no Taiga

  • Edo period
  • 18th century
  • Hanging scroll, ink on paper
  • H-42 W-54
Catalogue Entry

This is Ike no Taiga's rendition of the famous battle between a crab and monkeys. This tale was one of the "five great traditional tales" of the Edo period, and it takes as its theme the battle that occurred when a baby crab seek vengeance on the monkeys for having killed his parents. This tale is still widely known in Japan today and there are many related tales, each with a slight variant of the original theme.

This painting shows two monkeys battling the baby crab, and a mortar wielding a spear. In the background a fox and a badger wearing formal kimono stand as referees in this unique scene. The background is cut off by a bamboo fence, suggesting the fascinating concept that revenge was a formally recognized event in the Edo period. The mortar brandishes a spear to threaten one monkey who wields a spear‐like pole toward the wrought‐up carb, while the other monkey has been completely vanquished. This is the deciding moment in the battle, and fox and badger watch with intense focus. Taiga's immense skill as a literati style painter can be sensed in his superb depiction of each animal's psychological state in only a few abbreviated brushstrokes.