Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892) Emperor Kameyama from Yoshitoshi's 'Illustrated History of Great Japan,' 1880. Oban triptych.
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A staggering design.... Yoshitoshi is truly one of the great design masters of the late nineteenth century. Not only in his confident and extraordinary style of drawing - that blend of European illustration and traditional Japanese representation - but in the mastery of the complex layering required to bring the cumbersome woodblock medium to life. In this outstanding print for example, he manages to layer the brilliant effect of the waves crashing on the shore and the blasting effect of what at first appears to be the sun. Or is it a supernatural vision? (It is). And the driving rain… this chaos cut by that strong diagonal of the leaning pine and the static figure of the praying Buddhist ascetic Nichiren. Behind him the tangle of warring, slashing bodies driven towards the calm centre of the print.
It is really a tremendous achievement… these bravura triptychs are quite unrivalled by anyone in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The scene shown here is the rescue of Nichiren, a monk who was the founder of the Hokke sect of Buddhism. This is an illustration of a famous incident; the attempted execution of Nichiren during the reign of Emperor Kameyama, the ninetieth Emperor of Japan.
Nichiren (1222 - 1282) was and remains a controversial and divisive figure. He established a popular sect of Buddhism but he was also militaristic, nationalistic and highly political. Thus in 1269 during the threatened Mongol invasion of Japan, Nichiren who had predicted the event entered into an unwise correspondence with fellow scholars close to the throne. He was tried and sent to Tatsunukuchi beach for execution. At the final moment an astronomical phenomenon, "a brilliant orb as bright as the moon," arced over the execution grounds, terrifying Nichiren's executioners. Nichiren’s life was spared and he was exiled.
Yoshitoshi represents this turning point in a supreme and violent image. The series, Yoshitoshi's 'Illustrated History of Great Japan (Dai nihon shiryaku zue)' consists of illustrations of famous incidents in the lives of selected Japanese Emperors and mythical or semi-mythical figures. (The name and ordinal of the Emperor are given at the bottom of the large vertical cartouche on the left.) It dates from toward the end of Yoshitoshi's career, when he was about forty.
The print is nearly full-size, the colour is excellent, the impression very good, condition overall is excellent. The print is unbacked, without binding holes, but some wear to the lower margins. There is oxidation to the dark oranges of the supernatural flames.
73 x 36 cm.