Kuniyoshi, Biographies of Wise Women and Virtuous Wives - Hangaku-jo

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) Biographies of Wise Women and Virtuous Wives: Hangaku-jo, 1842. Oban.

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This is a terrific portrait of a famous female warrior and quite different of course to the seductive prostitutes and languorous women of the Yoshiwara and the palaces. This is a posthumous (by several hundred years) portrait of a female warrior samurai, one of the relatively few Japanese warrior women commonly known in history or classical literature. Lady Hangaku or Hangaku Gozen lived during the end of the Heian  period (794 to 1185). She was the daughter of a warrior named Jo Sukekuni; the Jo warriors were allies of the Taira clan and were defeated in the Genpei Wars losing most of their power. In 1201 Hangaku raised an army in response to Sukemoto's attempt to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate.

Ultimately she was wounded by an arrow and captured. Hangaku was taken to Kamakura. When she was presented to the shogun Minamoto no Yoriie, she met Asari Yoshito, a warrior of the Kai Genji, who received the shogun's permission to marry her. They lived in Kai, where she is said to have had one daughter. Hangaku is said to have been "fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower,” and to have wielded a naginata in battle. Many storytellers and printmakers have portrayed her in their work.

Kuniyoshi describes her with robes over her armour and a water basin and dipper in the foreground. Her sword is prominent. The series is a good example of the printmakers' response to exhortations by legislators during the Tenpo reforms of 1842 to promote virtue and refrain from images of prostitutes and the theatre. Each design presents a famous woman from history and includes a short biography. Thirty one designs are known in the series.

Outstanding impression and colour, condition is very good, some slight wear to the lower right corner.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

24 x 36 cm.