Kuniyoshi, A Comparison of the 100 Ogura Poets, 7 - Nagoya Sanzaburo

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) A Comparison of the One Hundred Ogura Poets #7: Nagoya Sanzaburo, 1847. Oban.

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We are showing two prints from the very famous print series A Comparison of the Ogura One Hundred Poets, sometimes known as the Hundred Poets Compared. This series of 100 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.

In this print, Kuniyoshi represents a very famous story of two disgraced townsmen, sacked from the service of the their lord, and their love interest turned out into a life of prostitution. The subject was often made into kabuki dramas of real life. 

Banzaemon has Sanzaburo’s father murdered and arranges the theft of a precious scroll, replacing it with a sandal of Sanzaburo’s lover Katsuragi. Both men are dismissed from the employ of Lord Sasaki.  Sanzaburo lives in poverty and Katsuragi becomes a prostitute. Eventually, Sanzaburo fights with Banzaemon in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter, and after various adventures, Sanzaburo kills Banzaemon thereby avenging the murder of his father. Kuniyoshi shows Sanzaburo cleaning the blood from his sword, no doubt with the very sandal which had wrongly incriminated Katsuragi. The ‘sedge hat’ seen on the floor was often used by men to disguise themselves when visiting a red light district. The same subject appears in a triptych by Kunichika in this selection.

The poem is by Abe no Nakamaro and compares the moon he sees now with the same moon that he saw in his past. The allusion here is to the moon that Sanzaburo’s father saw on the night that he was murdered.:

As I gaze out, far
across the plain of heaven,
ah, at Kasuga
from behind Mount Mikasa,
it’s the same moon that came out then!

A very good example from this series, the print is (unusually) full size with full margins. Impression is excellent, condition and colour very good overall, some fading, a visible centre fold.

Published by Ibaya Senzaburo.

36 x 25 cm.