Kuniyoshi, The Great Feast of the Taira Before Going to War, with Tomomori Dancing

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Great Feast of the Taira before Going to War, with Tomomori Dancing (centre), 1845. Oban Triptych.

Click here for a detailed enlargement.

This is a quite superb Kuniyoshi triptych of museum quality and rarity in fact. This particular set is the same set used on the definitive web site the Kuniyoshi Project, and the only other example I know of is in Honolulu at the Arts Museum. The scene here predates the most famous subject that woodblock artists would return to again and again: the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. The sea battle was the culmination of a war that would decide who ruled Japan for the next seven hundred years. Two opposing factions, the Minamoto and the Taira (Heike) clans faced each other in fleets off the coast of Japan on April the 25th, 1185. The Taira had with them the seven year old Emperor and his family; the Minamoto were led by the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune. The turning point in the ferocious battle came when a senior Taira general defected to the Minamoto and identified the ship containing the child Emperor Antoku and his family. The Minamoto archers turned their arrows on the flagship, sending it out of control. As the battle turned against them, sensing defeat, Antoku and his grandmother jumped to their deaths saying, “in the depths of the ocean we have a capital,” followed shortly by their loyal Taira samurai. There were three Taira commanders, of whom Tomomori was the greatest and the wisest. Tomomori is seen here at the centre of the print dancing in celebration of past victories and in anticipation of greater ones still. He was to throw himself into the sea rather than face defeat or capture.

We are showing this print as part of the women show because of the exquisite glimpse into courtly life. The Emperor sits on the dais far right, his commanders are arrayed in serried ranks, their leader dances before the throne - surely an effeminate gesture to us these days? Meanwhile the formal distribution of water is carried out by the women who serve the male, seated warriors.

A really fine Kuniyoshi triptych. Colour, condition and impression are all fine, a rare piece.

Published by Ezaki-ya Tatsuzo.

36 x 75 cm.