Hiroshige, A Comparison of the Ogura 100 Poets 42 - Kiyowara no Motosuke

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets #42: Kiyowara no Motosuke, 1845 -1847. Oban.

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This series of one hundred prints is one of the outstanding achievements of woodblock printing in Japan in the nineteenth century. Commissioned by the publisher Ibaya Senzaburo in 1845, the series is the joint work of Kuniyoshi, Hiroshige and Kunisada - the three outstanding woodblock artists of the age. The prints in the series are beautifully composed, drawn and printed and they exhibit a remarkable conformity of style. The edition was one in a long line of anthologies which gathered together the canon of great poetry going back to the eighth century. Whilst there had been previous attempts by artists to anthologise and illustrate the great poems, notably by Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi himself, this was the first major work to be completed.

The poems themselves were gathered together by the scholar Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. It is presumed that these poems were taken from a commission that resulted in the pieces being written out by hand by Teika and glued to the doors of his villa in the shadow of Mount Ogura - hence the name of the series. Some of these fragments still exist in museums in Japan. One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, became the standard textbook for Japanese poetry for centuries to come. The poems themselves are in the Tanka style, that is, five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables - different to the more familiar Haiku popular today. The prints are mitate - pictures that allude via analogy to the subject of the print. In this way, the publisher challenged the reader to find the meaning of the pictures within the visual clues of the print.

The tale here is simple enough, Kiyowara no Motosuke, a nobleman, fell in love with a pretty courtesan called Matsuyama. He became so besotted that he left his family and spent all his money on her until he was locked away for his own safety. When he eventually escaped he danced like a maniac to the banks of the Aji River whereupon he drowned himself. This tragedy was turned into a famous kabuki dance which is illustrated here, very beautifully by Hiroshige. We see the mad Motosuike, also called Wankyu, pursued by children who make fun of him and throw things at him as on stage.

Joly does not refer to this incident but recounts a delicate story in entry 803 regarding his daughter, Seishonagon;

SEISHONAGON. Court beauty and poetess, daughter of Kiyowara no Motosuke, who fell into disgrace. She is shown raising a blind and showing the winter landscape in illustration of the following episode. Once when the Emperor was passing round the sake cup amongst his courtiers he noticed her looking through a door at the freshly fallen snow, and said: "How is the snow of Koroho?" Nobody understood except Seishonagon, who raised a curtain, showing that she perceived the allusion to Hakurakuten's poem: "The snow of Koroho is seen by raising the curtains."

The poem from which Hiroshige derived this print reads;

If I were to neglect you
and a fickle heart
possess, then, indeed
the rising waves would pass over
the Sue-no-Matsu Mountain!

This is a lovely, collectible print from one of the great print series. Colour and impression are fine, as is condition except for trimming to the lower margin.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

35.5 x 24 cm.