Toshikata, Ise Saburo Encountering Minamoto no Yoshitsune by Moonlight

Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) Ise Saburo Encountering Minamoto no Yoshitsune, 1893. Oban triptych.

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This print and the other prints we have shown by Toshikata represent the high point of innovation by woodblock artists working at the end of the nineteenth century.   One has to bear in mind that the extraordinary subtleties of shade, tone, colour and surface are achieved using unyielding blocks of wood carved with steel chisels. The variety of effects on a print such as this is frankly staggering.

Toshikata is one of the outstanding artists of the Meiji period. In terms of his ability to draw the maximum amount of subtlety and delicacy from the woodblock medium he is every bit equal to and in some cases (like this print) superior to his mentor Yoshitoshi. This print is a graphic masterpiece, understated and yet brimming with knowing and great visual understanding.

The subject here is Yoshitsune. His father was persecuted by the rival Taira Clan and Yoshitsune was brought up in a monastery. Legend has it that he was then taught the secrets of fighting by Tengu (mythical forest creatures) before taking up rebellion against his father’s old enemies.  Yoshitsune, though slight, with his loyal bodyguard, Benkei, led an armed rebellion against the Taira, establishing Yoshitsune’s brother as the first national Shogun - a position that would last for 650 years, until the 19th century. Yoshitsune was betrayed by his brother and later killed himself and his family at the siege of Koromogawa no tate.

Toshikata shows the samurai, Ise Saburo, raised without a father, who headed a company of of bandits, laying claim to ‘his’ territory – upland near Iga. However, after meeting Yoshitsune, Ise Saburo returned to serving his lord, just as his ancestors did. His loyalty and martial skills made him one of the prince Minamoto’s first generals.

Toshikata shows the first meeting of the two heroes, cleverly setting the bandit in the wilds of the forest and the slightly built prince in the elegant bamboo interior. Unbacked. Colour and impression are absolutely fine. Condition is very good with some surface wear.

Publisher: Akiyama Buemon.

71 x 35 cm.