Kuniyoshi, 24 Paragons of Filial Piety of Our Country - Hitsu-no-Saisho

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety of Our Country: Hitsu-no-Saishô Haruhira, 1842. Chuban. 

A very fine and unusual print by Kuniyoshi. The chuban format is rare in Kuniyoshi’s work, although he made several series of the 'morally improving' illustrations to this famous book of moral tales.  The book entitled The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety was written by the Guo Jujing during the Yuan Dynasty.  It recounts the self-sacrificing behaviour of twenty-four Chinese children who improved their parents’ lives or peacefully honoured their deceased parents. This series of prints portrays a more warlike lot of children from Japanese history and legend - several free their parents from captivity or avenge their parents’ deaths.  These exemplars of confucian duty would have pleased the censors and there is speculation that they may have found an audience with parents as gifts to daughters, (along with volumes of explicit shunga).

In this strange image we see the now forgotten Hitsu-no-Saisho Haruhira rescuing his father who has been punished by the Emperor by being made to act as a lighthouse… this story, as are all of them, is apocryphal. There is here in the retelling some of the now familiar friction between China and Japan... Roger Keyes devotes a page to this print and a later version by Yoshitoshi, in his book, The Male Journey in Japanese Prints.  Keyes comments:

Hitsu no Saisho Haruhira visits the Chinese Emperor's court and discovers that his father, a former envoy, has been tortured and driven insane. The emperor humiliates the Japanese more by making the father sit by his side with a candle burning on his head as he greets the Japanese legation.

It is a very good print, there is great richness to it and the quality of the printing is outstanding. Similar in design to the One Hundred Ogura Poets series which was on the oban format.

Publisher: Murata-ya Tetsu.

18.5 x 24 cm.