Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The secrets of Strategy: Gojo Bridge, 1848 - 1853. Oban.
This extraordinary and beautiful print is from a series illustrating the life of Yoshitsune-no Minamoto, titled The Secrets of Strategy. Yoshitsune’s is a tragic and very famous story in Japan. His father was persecuted by the rival Taira Clan and Yoshitsune was brought up in a monastery. Legend has it that he was then taught the secrets of fighting by Tengu (mythical forest creatures) before taking up rebellion against his father’s old enemies. The scene depicted is the meeting between Yoshitsune and the folk hero Oniwakamura (Benkei). Benkei, known as a phenomenally strong man and warrior, has secured Gojo bridge with the intention of relieving 1000 samurai of their swords. Yoshitsune is his 1000th victim. Yoshitsune, though slight, defeats the giant man using Tengu fighting skills. Benkei becomes his loyal protector and between them they lead an armed rebellion against the Taira, establishing Yoshitsune’s brother as the first national Shogun - a position that would last 650 years until the19th century. Yoshitsune was betrayed by his brother and later killed himself and his family at the siege of Koromogawa no tate.
Kuniyoshi pictures the famous combat at Gojo Bridge. Benkei is seen clumsily striking at a robe with a naginata, magically floating in front of him. Yoshitsune leaps over the rail waving his fan, emphasising his agility. A cache of swords is lashed to the bridge, a reminder of Benkei’s former conquests. Yoshitsune’s robes picture the temple of his youth that he has only recently left. There is further discussion of the story of Benkei and Yoshitsune on our blog. The same scene by Yoshitaki is pictured later in this exhibition.
This is a fine print of the earlier and more accomplished edition. Full size it is a very fine impression and has unfaded colour. Superb condition throughout. Excellent.
Signed Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi ga in gourd shaped cartouche with Kiri seal. Published by Joshu-ya Juzo.