Kuniyoshi, The Priest Raigo, About to Turn Scripture into Rats

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The Priest Raigo, About to Turn Scripture into Rats, 1840’s. Oban.
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A rare piece and unusual. This very clean, sparse Kuniyoshi is in very fine condition. The background is delicately patterned with woodgrain; Raigo sits holding a scroll in his hand; rats scamper across his feet. Raigo was a powerful priest whose story appears in the medieval Heike monogatari. Raigo advised Emperor Shirakawa (1053 - 1159), but when asked by a grateful master to wish for anything, Raigo asked for alterations to the temple and was refused. In protest, he began a hunger strike that ended in his death. His vengeful spirit haunted the young prince to death and then turned itself into a thousand hungry rats that went on to infest the temple precinct and to devour the holy scriptures. Kuniyoshi shows both scripture and rats. The subject was popular among woodblock artists, possibly because it suggested the difficulties between the holy orders and the government. Priests, their monasteries and temples were often para-military organisations and were part of the feudal power politics of medieval Japan.

A rare print, very fine condition and impression, with mica embellishment. Embossing to the blue robes of the figure.

25 x 37 cm.